Aries Merritt showed early potential but seemed stuck in second gear in his first few years as a professional. The American broke through in 2012, however, emerging as the world's dominant sprint hurdler, and one of the best of all time.
The First Hurdle:
Merritt was a freshman sprinter at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia when a teammate dared him to leap a fence. Merritt's coach, Chad Walker, happened to witness Merritt leap the approximately hurdle-sized barrier and put two and two together, making Merritt a hurdler. He went on to win the state's 110-meter hurdles championship as a senior.
Merritt ran for three years at the University of Tennessee, earning seven All-America honors and winning the 2006 NCAA outdoor 110 hurdles title. While at Tennessee Merritt won the 110 hurdles gold medal at the 2005 World Junior Championships where he beat, among others, future Olympic champion Dayron Robles.
The Big Change:
Merritt was stuck in the 13.10 to 13.25 range from 2006 through 2011 and entered 2012 with a lifetime best of 13.09 seconds in the 110 hurdles. His major international accomplishment during those years was reaching the World Championship final in 2011, where he finished fifth. Merritt then tweaked his style in off-season, reducing his strides from eight to seven going into the first hurdle, a move that “gave me a little more momentum,” Merritt said. He also improved his diet and work habits entering the 2012 season.
The Breakthrough Year:
Merritt's changes paid off quickly in 2012, as he beat Liu Xiang to earn the gold medal in the 60-meter hurdles at the World Indoor Championships. In the outdoor season, Merritt dropped his personal best to 13.03, then 13.01, then won the U.S. Olympic Trials in 12.93 seconds. Merritt, who'd missed his chance to run in the 2008 Olympics by finishing fourth at the previous U.S. Trials, made the most of his first Olympic experience. He crushed the competition in London, winning the gold medal in a personal best 12.92 seconds. That personal best didn't last long, however. The following month, Merritt won the Diamond League final in Brussels in a world record 12.80 seconds, topping Robles' former mark of 12.87. Merritt, who won the overall 2012 Diamond Race championship, finished the year with an all-time record eight sub-13-second races in the 110 hurdles.
- Height: 6 feet, 1 inch
- Weight: 158 pounds
- Birth date: July 24, 1985
- Hometown: Marietta, Georgia
- Personal best: 12.80