He is currently the fastest hurdler in the world, a man at the peak of his powers. The only man this season to run below 13 seconds for the men’s 110m hurdles and the only hurdler in history to run below 10 seconds for the flat 100m. Jamaica’s Omar McLeod had a lot of expectations to live up to as he embarked on a historic journey that would take him to the XXX1 Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro.
McLeod (22) has been a trailblazer for a few years now. He holds the Jamaican high school championship record in the 110m hurdles of 13.24 seconds and has won several NCAA indoor and outdoor Division one titles while attending the University of Arkansas.
In 2015, for the first time ever in one season, four men ran under 13 seconds with Omar McLeod being among them. His sixth place finish at the Beijing world championships was seen as a major disappointment. He used that experience to become a more intelligent, fearless and confident competitor.
At the IAAF world indoor championships in Portland, Oregon in March, McLeod etched his name in history by becoming the first Jamaican hurdler to win the 60m discipline. That led to a phenomenal run outdoors where he chalked up impressive victories one after another destroying quality opposition in the process. At one point he was responsible for the top five fastest times on the world list.
After a month of inactivity McLeod turned up at the Jamaica National senior championships in July and claimed his second straight domestic title. His winning time of 13.01(0.4 m/s) solidified his readiness for the Rio Olympics. As is the case with obstacle events there will be hiccups and McLeod experienced a few in two warm up races effectively tainting his unbeaten record. Those setbacks would be the last time he tasted defeat.
On Tuesday (August 16), the biggest day in his life, Omar McLeod became Jamaica’s first ever Olympic gold medallist in the men’s 110m hurdles at the XXX1 Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
McLeod had the momentum heading into the final after dispatching American champion Devon Allen and Frenchman Pascal Martinot-Lagarde with aplomb in the semi-final. That result emphasized with absolute certainty his right to wear the favourite’s tag and the final was now his to lose.
In the final, McLeod, the reigning world indoor 60m champion, got off to a brilliant start getting to the first three hurdles before anyone else. Although briefly pursued by Frenchman Dimitri Bascou, he never panicked and quickly settled into a nice rhythm. McLeod who runs with an upright technique was determined not to relinquish his lead. His speed between the hurdles was unmatched as he accelerated from the field that was now forced to play catch up.
He remained poised and relentless throughout, clearing each hurdle while extending his lead. With two flights of hurdles to go the contest which many thought would have been closer was virtually over. Only an unforeseen mishap could stop McLeod now. Thankfully those days were behind him. This was his moment to shine.
McLeod, with daylight to spare, cruised to an easy win in 13.05 (0.2 m/s) celebrating metres before the finish line extending both arms like an eagle in full flight.
“The feeling is indescribable. I honestly don’t know what is going through my mind right now. I need to go back and recite ‘you are an Olympic champion’,” said an excited McLeod said after the race.
Spain’s Orlando Ortega proved ‘the best of the rest’ overtaking the Frenchman Bascou in the final few metres to grab silver in 13.17 seconds. Bascou claimed the bronze medal in 13.24 seconds ahead of his fast finishing teammate Pascal Martinot-Lagarde 13.29. American champion Devon Allen who came into the championships with great credentials was fifth in 13.31 seconds.
McLeod commented on his 2016 during which he fell in two Diamond League meeting races:
“It’s been an up and down year. It was kind of a humbling experience. I came to the realisation that things happen in sport. You are never guaranteed a perfect career. It was a test of character and I bounced back well.
“I came in to this championship like it never happened. I just needed to trust my ability and have fun. I learned a lot from it,” he added.