There can be no doubt that Omar McLeod’s athletics achievements indoors and outdoors in 2017 placed him head and shoulders above his peers. The Jamaican sprint hurdles sensation, the overwhelming favourite for the prestigious RJR Gleaner Sports Foundation Sportsman of the Year Award is just grateful to be among the nominees once more.
“Being nominated for Sportsman of the year is definitely a great feeling and certainly a reassurance that I’m on the right track and I’m doing something great,” said McLeod who was runner-up to Usain Bolt in 2016.
The 23 year-old who began last season as the world indoor 60m hurdles and 110m Olympic champion was like a man on a mission. He sent out early warning signs at the 110th NYRR Millrose Games in Washington Heights, New York while blazing to victory in 7.46 seconds in the 60m hurdles.
That was just the appetizer for things to come as he showed his vast potential a few weeks later, becoming his country’s new national record holder in the 200m indoors, stopping the clock at 20.48 seconds. McLeod’s run came just ninety minutes after setting a new PB of 6.61 seconds in the 60m dash.
McLeod, who stands alone as the only 110m hurdler since 2016 to dip below 13 seconds, twice delighted his adoring fans last season, first sending them into raptures at the National Senior Championships in June with a blistering 12.90 seconds en route to a new national record and becoming the joint 5th fastest man all-time over the barriers.
Then in August at the London World Championships, when he cemented his status as the world’s best sprint hurdler winning the world title in 13.04 seconds, his country’s only gold medal.
“I had no regrets from last season whatsoever,” McLeod explained.
“I mean, how could I have? It was definitely another season of growth where I learned a lot about myself, took a lot of risks and not to mention the plethora of success I had. I’m truly grateful.”
Accolades usually crown a lifetime of effort. Notwithstanding his remarkable achievements, McLeod doesn’t intend to get caught up in the web of self-complacency and lose focus; instead, he is constantly reminded of his purpose which fuels his desire to reach the zenith of his powers.
“My coach helps a lot in that aspect, where he’s helping me realise that there is so much more to me than just hurdling and also helping me become a student of the sport which is really humbling because there are a lot more things I have left to accomplish in my career and especially in the hurdling events even though I’ve won all major titles.”
There is one title missing (though not considered major) from McLeod’s trophy cabinet and it shall remain so certainly for at least another four years. That is being crowned Commonwealth Games champion.
“I don’t think I will be at the Commonwealth Games this year, being that it’s so close to World Indoors,” McLeod reasoned.
“We are fearful that we won’t get enough time to unwind and put in that quality work needed for the events that we had planned on doing.”
Apart from defending his title at the World Indoors in Birmingham, McLeod who is very methodical in his approach has his sights firmly set on another lucrative target this season. “Winning the Diamond League trophy is one of my ultimate goals for this season.”
McLeod who was initially also among last year’s IAAF Athlete of the Year nominees, admitted he made huge sacrifices mid-season including switching coaches and relocating. He believes in that short time period he’s seen the justification of his decision and feels rejuvenated.
“So far both have been really good and something truly needed. Each day is like a confirmation that I made the right choice.”
McLeod is the ultimate team player and believes he can contribute tremendously in another capacity for his country. “I love running the 4x100m relay, especially if I am starting (smiles). Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to be on a lot more teams in the future.”
McLeod, who playfully jumped over boxes in the streets in his youth, seriously took up hurdling at age 15 and eight years later is perhaps one of the key figures behind this discipline now being at an all-time high in Jamaica. He sounded prophetic when asked if he’s ready to take on the mantle of being Jamaica’s next track superstar. “Yes, I am more than ready to shine my own light.”
His season opener will occur, just like last year, at the NYRR Millrose Games (111th edition) on 3 February, however he won’t be negotiating any barriers on this occasion as he will be competing in the 60m dash. McLeod will face an all-star line-up which could push or pull him to a new personal best.
Facing the starter alongside McLeod are his compatriot Asafa Powell, the most prolific sub-10 sprinter in history, Xie Zhenye, the Chinese national record holder in the 200m; CJ Ujah of Great Britain, the 2017 Diamond League 100m Champion, Aska Cambridge of Japan, the 2016 Olympic Games 4×100 silver medallist and Ronnie Baker of USA, who established the world’s fastest time in 60m (6.45 seconds) for 2017.