Omar McLeod (centre) wins the 110m hurdles at the 2016 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene (© Kirby Lee)
Olympic champion Omar McLeod and world record-holder Aries Merritt lead a stellar 110m hurdles field for the 43rd Prefontaine Classic, the third stop of the 2017 IAAF Diamond League series, on 27 May.
McLeod and Merritt are among an all-star quintet that includes the past two Olympic and world champions, all of whom have dipped under the event's formidable 13-second barrier in their careers.
McLeod won Jamaica’s first Olympic gold medal in the event last year in Rio, less than three months after winning the Pre Classic by more than three metres in 13.06.
McLeod’s speed is clearly one of his best assets. Last April he clocked 9.99 in his first known 100m race, becoming the first man to break both the 10-second (100m) and 13-second (110m hurdles) barriers. He also won last year’s world indoor 60m hurdles title in a Jamaican record of 7.41.
Merritt has displayed gold-medal form on and off the track. He won the US indoor 60 hurdles title in Albuquerque this winter for his first US crown since 2012, the only other year he has won a US title.
That year saw Merritt go global in a way any athlete could dream of. After a wind-aided 12.96 for second at the Pre Classic to China’s Liu Xiang (12.87w), Merritt never lost the rest of the season. He improved his PB twice in winning the US Olympic Trials, then again in London to become the first US athlete in 16 years to win the Olympic gold. He closed out the season with fireworks, running 12.80 at the IAAF Diamond League final to set a world record that has yet to be challenged.
Times have been tough since, especially in 2015. He earned bronze at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 in 13.04, his fastest since his world record. Merritt achieved it knowing that just four days later he would receive a new kidney to replace one that had become damaged from a rare disease. The donor was his older sister, LaToya. He missed making the US Olympic team last summer, finishing fourth by just millimeters.
The field also includes Sergey Shubenkov, who won the 2015 world title clocking a 12.98 Russian record. Shubenkov has competed at the Pre Classic three times, finishing fifth in 2014 and 2015 and sixth in 2013.
David Oliver, who will turn 35 on 24 April, owns the two fastest times at the Pre Classic. He clocked 12.90 in 2010, then a national record, and 12.94 in 2011. The 2013 world champion will be making his 10th start in Eugene where he has finished no lower than third.
France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde also has a pair of Pre Classic victories, winning in 2014 and 2015. He is the French record-holder at 12.95 and in 2014 he won the Diamond Race. He is the only French Pre Classic winner in this event since the first edition was captured by Guy Drut in 1975, a year before winning gold at the Montreal Olympics.
Dimitri Bascou earned the Olympic bronze medal last year, the best by a Frenchman in this event since Drut’s 1976 gold. He also won European gold last year, the first for his country since 1986.
Britain’s Andrew Pozzi capped an undefeated indoor season in the 60m hurdles with gold at the European Indoor Championships. At 7.43 indoors, he is the fastest Briton since Colin Jackson, who still owns the world record at 7.30.
A lane is still to be filled, who meet organisers hope will be taken by Devon Allen, the 22-year-old Oregon star who finished fifth at the Olympics last year. He set his best of 13.03 to win the US Olympic Trials last July at Hayward Field.
Organisers for the IAAF
2017 IAAF Diamond League calendar
5 May – Doha, QAT
13 May – Shanghai, CHN
27 May – Eugene, USA
8 Jun – Rome, ITA
15 Jun – Oslo, NOR
18 Jun – Stockholm, SWE
1 Jul – Paris, FRA
6 Jul – Lausanne, SUI
9 Jul – London, GBR
16 Jul – Rabat, MAR
21 Jul – Monaco, MON
20 Aug – Birmingham, GBR
24 Aug – Zurich, SUI
1 Sep – Brussels, BEL