Even fifth has Merritt for Aries
LONDON — Aries Merritt felt like he had won just by being in the final of the 110m hurdles after undergoing a kidney transplant just two years ago.
The 31-year-old American, the world-record holder in the event, finished outside the medals in fifth in a race won by the man who succeeded him as Olympic champion last year, Jamaica’s Omar McLeod.
Defending champion Sergey Shubenkov took silver as an “authorized neutral athlete”, Russia being still banned as a nation from competing because of the doping scandal, and Hungarian Balazs Baji a surprising bronze.
Merritt, who had recorded his greatest win in the same stadium in 2012 when he took Olympic gold, looked to be on track for a medal until two hurdles from the finish, but it didn’t matter much to him.
“Of course it feels like a victory,” said Merritt.
“I am not meant to even be running, so to be here in the final is a blessing.
“I’ve only been back in top competition for a year (he narrowly failed to make the US Olympic team last year finishing fourth in the national trials), finished and have put in some good performances.”
Merritt, who had been in sparkling shape coming into the championships having won at the same stadium at last month’s Diamond League meet, underwent the transplant from his older sister LaToya just days after winning the bronze at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.
He was first been diagnosed with the rare congenital kid- ney disease called “collapsing focal segmental glomerulosclerosis” (FSGS) in 2013.
At one point, LaToya was even prepared to terminate her pregnancy so she could donate her kidney. Merritt’s condition improved sufficiently to make that drastic gesture superfluous.
“She and my mom were in the stadium tonight which makes it extra special as without LaToya I wouldn’t even have had the chance to run again,” said Merritt.
“Of course it would have been great to win a medal in front of them but, hey, I had a bad day.
“I’m not the only champion athlete to have suffered that here. Usain Bolt got a bronze (in the men’s 100m) and Elaine Thompson didn’t even medal.
“There’ve been a lot of results that haven’t been the norm here and that is because there are a lot of new faces coming through and changing things around.
“That can be only good for the sport.”
Merritt, who had to be operated on twice in 2015 — first the transplant and then to have the kidney inserted deeper inside him as it was causing him pain when he tried to hurdle — had no doubts he would return to the podium again in the future.
“I’m not in any pain, I just didn’t execute tonight,” he said.
“But it’s definitely possible for me to medal in the future.
“Everyone in the hurdling game is hurdling well.
“Since I broke the world record it’s really transformed.
“There are a lot of new people and new talent, and that’s fine. I’m just happy still to be part of it.”
Merritt, whose mother raised him and his sister on her own in a tough neighborhood of Atlanta, had no problem with Shubenkov being in the race.
“He is definitely a great hurdler,” said Merritt.
“I can’t speak on Russia, although obviously some athletes have been doping, but he is clean and he isn’t one of them.”
“I was hoping for more improvement but when I try to improve too hard, my technique is not good.
“I have to stay relaxed. I am confident that I will improve in the future. My technique was the only problem tonight.”
Another Pole, Malwina Kopron, took bronze with a throw of 74.76m.
China’s Zhang Wenxiu — a silver medalist at the Beijing worlds in 2015 and last year’s Rio Olympics — finished a disappointing fourth with a distance of 74.53.
“I am upset because this is my ninth world championships and it will be my last one,” said Zhang. “This season has been hard for me because I had a baby last year, but I am happy to end it here.
“I started competing at 15 and I am 31 now. It is the end of a long career.”
Aries Merritt of the US competes in Monday’s final of the 110m hurdles at the World Athletics Championships in London.