Aries Merritt’s hurdling heroes

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You can’t set a world record on your own. Find out who inspired the Olympic champion and fastest 110m hurdler ever, Aries Merritt, and why he has watched Liu Xiang’s 2004 Olympic win more than 500 times on YouTube.

“Growing up, in my back yard, my hero was Allen Johnson [four-time world 110m hurdles champion], because I grew up in Atlanta. I was like, ‘Mom, I wanna do that when I grow up’ and she’s like ‘yeah right honey’… Now I’m doing it.

“Allen was always one of the hurdlers that I looked up to, even when I raced him in 2005 and 2006. When I did get to race against him, I was like, ‘Wow, this man really gets it done.’

“Obviously Liu [Xiang], watching him in 2004, after I won Grosseto [Merritt took world junior gold in Italy ahead of Dayron Robles], I went home and I saw this man from China win the Olympics. I was like, man, who is this guy? Because to me, he kinda came out of nowhere. I was expecting someone else, from the Americas, to win… And he just mopped the floor with everybody.

I literally watched that race over 400 times, maybe even over 500 times, just to look and see, and mimic his rhythm and study and see what he’s doing; and see what I can do to make myself better.”

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Liu Xiang races Allen Johnson at the Paris 2003 World Championships.

“It’s always been Allen, Liu and Renaldo [US hurdler turned San Francisco 49er Renaldo Nehemiah]. Renaldo is the person we used still models of, when I was learning proper technique. My lower body mechanics mimic Renaldo Nehemiah.

“Meeting Harrison Dillard [four-time Olympic champion] was definitely, definitely, a highlight for me. I never would have imagined I’d ever get to meet the guy. Just to meet all the people that came before me, to see all the history. For them to be like ‘I want your autograph,’ I’m like, what! ‘My autograph? I want your autograph!’ It’s just a blessing for me to be part of history.”

Describe the hurdler in one word…

Allen Johnson? “Diligent”
Liu Xiang? “Persistent”
Dayron Robles? “Powerful”
Renaldo Nehemiah? “Finesse”
Colin Jackson? “Speedy”
Aries Merritt? “I don’t know, that’s a hard one. That’s kinda like describing myself!”

Aries Merritt was talking as part of the IAAF’s Day In The Life project.