Even fifth has Mer­ritt for Aries

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

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.”

ALAS­TAIR GRANT / AP

Aries Mer­ritt of the US com­petes in Mon­day’s fi­nal of the 110m hur­dles at the World Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don.

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