|Aries Merritt screamed after breaking the|
110-meter hurdle world record at Brussels'
King Baudouin Stadium in 2012.
(AP File Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
“It was essentially the perfect year. I won every major championship that you can win that year. I broke almost every record you could break. I missed the Olympic meet record and the Olympic Trials record, but every other record I broke,” said Merritt, who is here this week for the Maximum Velocity Track & Field Camp at Centre College.
“Every time I stepped on the track, I broke records. It was pretty funny and amazing at the same time. I wasn’t trying to break records. I was just trying to prepare for the Olympics Games because it was my first Olympic setting and I wanted to come out with some hardware and I ended up winning. It was a fairy tale year for me.”
Merritt won the Olympic gold medal and the World Indoor championship. He set a new world record of 12.80 seconds — shattering Dayron Robles' previous record of 12.87 set in 2008 — that still stands today. He ran the seven fastest times in the world in 2012 and his eight races under 13 seconds are the most ever in a single season.
His 2013 season was not what he wanted because he tore his hamstring three times.
“It was because I neglected to get the proper treatment. I thought it was just a little cramp, but it was more than that,” Merritt said.
He tweaked his hamstring earlier this season, but said that injury is not why he’s at the camp and not competing somewhere else this week.
“Even if I was at 100 percent, I still would have come because I promised Sharrieffa Barksdale that I would come here. I promised her I would a long time ago. Regardless of my health, I still was going to come,” Merritt said of his pledge to Barksdale, a former Olympian who attracts a bevvy of world class athletes to this event annually.
“The only issue was because I hurt my hamstring, and not severely, and I wanted to make sure it was not too serious. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary or norm other than a slight strain, which it is. It is not too serious. I am maybe about 80 to 85 percent, which is fine because I don’t have to compete again soon since I am not running until July.”
Merritt said he rarely has time to work as a camp clinician because of preparation for world championships or the Olympics, but there are no major championships in 2014.
“I am able to do a little bit more. I love doing camps and instructing kids and seeing them develop. It is a passion of mine and is something I want to do when I am done competing. I want to coach,” he said.
He knows success.
He was a Georgia prep standout who went to the University of Tennessee and left after his junior season to turn pro with 14 total school, meet or facility records, including every high hurdles school record. He finished the 2006 college season undefeated in every 55-meter hurdles, 60-meter hurdles and 110-meter hurdles race he finished. In 2006, he broke the 24-year-old school record of Willie Gault and the SEC meet record (13.29) held by two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell. Merritt won the 110 hurdles at the 2006 NCAA championships in 13.21 seconds, breaking Greg Foster’s NCAA meet record of 13.22 set in 1978.
He credits coach Vince Anderson, who recruited him at Tennessee, for much of his success. Anderson left for Texas A&M and Merritt was also coached at Tennessee by Norbert Elliott, but it was Anderson who made him rethink his craft.
“Vince Anderson paved the way for me. He pretty much told me everything I was doing was wrong in high school and that I needed to fix everything and that’s what I did. I forgot everything I had learned and I pretty much listened to what he said like it was Bible and everything he told me was true. It made me better and I live by those principles and continue to build off what he taught me,” Merritt, who credits much of his success to altering his approach to the first hurdle from eight to seven steps, said.
Now he wants to help campers here the next few days, and he says there is no reason for any of them to be star-struck around him.
“I am really laid back. I am not arrogant so to speak, so it is easy to talk to me and really easy to have a conversation,” he said. “When you are coaching kids it is all about instructing them and teaching them what you know. If they are willing to listen they can learn so much from all the coaches here. We know so much and have been doing the sport for so long that all the knowledge we have, they can just collect that knowledge and keep it and go far in this sport.”
He also wants to keep going. His first priority now is to win the Outdoor World’s Championship in Beijing next year.
“In 2013 I tore my hamstring and was not able to compete at my best at worlds which cost me a championship. I missed three months of training and in this sport if you miss training it is so hard to catch up,” he said. “I was trying to my best but I just couldn’t get under 13 seconds. If I had run under 13, it would have sealed the deal.
“In 2012, running under 13 seconds was like sleeping. I could fall asleep and run under 13. Last year just for me to run 13 flat I was out of breath and huffing and puffing. I have a lot of work to do to get back to where I need to be. But the goal is to win Beijing World Championships in 2015 and then use that momentum and carry into 2016 and defend the Olympic title.”
He keeps his Olympic gold medal in a safe at an Atlanta bank.
“I carried it around for a long part of 2012 because everyone wants to see the medal. The 2012 medals were the biggest Olympic medals ever made. Normally they are small things, but these were huge medals and they are really heavy. They were so heavy on your neck, but that was a nice problem to have,” he joked.
He calls himself a “Southern boy” who was raised with an outgoing personality. However, he is still a bit taken aback when anyone asks him what it is like to be the best in the world at his event.
“It is a good feeling, but I don’t really look at it like that. I welcome anyone to challenge it (his record) and hopefully I can break it again or they can break it. That’s how people develop. They study film and see how someone else is doing something and they try to mimic and make it their own style,” he said. “That’s what I did when I saw the world record ran by Dayron (Robles) and I have been in world record races with great rivals and I got frustrated. But I stayed patient and everything came together. You just have to believe in yourself and let time run its course. But I don’t think of myself as being the best.”
Perhaps that’s why he still remembers the attention his Olympic victory generated when he tried to leave the complex where the athletes stayed in London to go to a shopping mall “to just feel normal” after his race.
“As soon as I won and stepped out of the village, I was mobbed by everybody. A lot of the people were sitting on the outside of the fence waiting on athletes to come out. They didn’t know who we were, but they just wanted autographs. They do that a lot in Europe. I walked out and hoped no one would recognize me and then all of a sudden everybody just comes and starts crowding me,” Merritt said.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I am never going to get to the mall.’ Then the police noticed and they were my escort for the entire trip that I had in the mall. It was crazy. People would come up and I would sign autographs and the police would make sure they didn’t tug and grab because they will do that to see you and be around you. They will grab you and try to force you into a certain direction. That’s one thing I definitely remember. I just felt like a star and I had never felt like that in my life. It was crazy.”