US Olympic Track Team 2012: 10 Things You Need to Know About Aries Merritt
As Aries Merritt prepares to try to win gold for the U.S. in the 110-meter hurdles during the London Games, it's time you got to know one of the premier athletes on Team USA.
In a sport dominated by Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay (at least in terms of press), high-profile athletes will fly under the radar until they win a medal at the Olympics.
Enter Aries Merritt.
He's a gifted athlete with a lot of potential, and he looks to win his first Olympic medal during the London Games. However, very few people know much about him.
Let's get to know the triumphs, defeats and quirks of a medal hopeful.
He Became a Hurdler by Hopping a Fence
Aries Merritt was a freshman on the high school track team and was just another guy on the team until someone dared him to jump a fence.
Turns out, that was the best dare of his life, as his coach saw him do it and said “You’re going to be the hurdler," according to Global Athletics & Marketing, Inc.
Merritt took it in stride, and he's now one of the best hurdlers in the world.
He Has a Background in Gymnastics
Aries Merritt was not originally a track star.
Apparently, he has a background in gymnastics, which helps him to contort his body so quickly. It also helped him jump that fence which turned him into a hurdler.
It looks like his flexibility has certainly helped him over the course of his career.
He's a 7-Time NCAA All-American
Very few collegiate athletes are named an All-American once. Some are lucky enough to be named so twice.
Aries Merritt was an All-American an incredible seven times. What makes this even more impressive, is that he left college a year early, so he was named seven times in three years.
During his illustrious collegiate career he claimed every single high hurdles record for the University of Tennessee, set 14 total school, meet or facility records, had an undefeated 2006 season and was the 2006 NCAA champion with a time of 13.21 seconds.
However, none of those accomplishments are as impressive as being named an All-American seven times.
He Had a Slow Start as a Professional
Even though he was a star in college and is now an Olympian, Aries Merritt had a difficult time adjusting to being a professional track star.
He did not make a U.S. championships team until 2009, and he was eliminated during the heats in both 2009 and 2010, with a personal best of 13.61.
All that changed in 2011, however, as he finally became healthy and developed his seven-step routine.
Once he finally perfected this technique he won the USA Indoor championship with a time of 7.43 seconds, and he has been building on that ever since.
While he was a star in college and is a star now, his time from 2007 through 2010 was not an easy four years for Merritt.
He's a Big-Time Gamer
Believe it or not, an Olympian like Aries Merritt does have a life other than being a hurdler.
According to Christopher Hunt of MileSplit, he says that there's nothing to do in College Station, TX, so he plays a lot of video games—and I mean a lot.
Seeing his cabinet of games is a dream come true for some people and shocking for others. He says that he's been a gamer all his life, and it gives him something to do in Texas.
His 7-Step Technique Has Been the Key
Aries Merritt's key to success has been his seven-step technique. While becoming healthy has been huge as well, this new approach that he recently mastered has shaved almost a full second off his times.
After running a season best of 13.61 in 2010, his time has been brought down to just 12.93 this year, thanks to this technique.
He's said that he got it down for the USA Indoor Championship, which he won. Now, his times are better than ever, and he's still improving because of this new strategy.
He Looks to Break the World Record
During the 2012 Olympics, Aries Merritt will look to break the world record when competing against its holder.
Cuban Olympian Dayron Robles set the world record of 12.87 seconds over four years ago, and it has stood for that time. Robles will also be competing in this year's Olympics, although held back by a leg injury.
Merritt has come very close to the record a few times, including his time of 12.93 during the U.S. Olympic trials. He's just 0.06 seconds behind Robles' time, and that's a margin that he could easily make up.
When Merritt takes to the track in London, he will be looking to break the world record and cement himself among the sport's greats.
He Gave His Mom a $10,000 Diamond
The Diamond Nation Galan was a great race for Aries Merritt. Not only did he set a stadium record with a time of 13.09, but he also won a $10,000 diamond for doing do.
Apparently, DN Galan gives such an expensive diamond to any athlete who can set a new record for the stadium, and Merritt did just that.
Merritt apparently loves his mom a whole lot, because he decided to give her the diamond instead of keeping it himself, but she made him keep it in a vault for her.
What was the last present you gave your mom? I think Merritt just showed us all up.
Rain Might Help Him at the Olympics
While cold, rainy conditions hurt most athletes, they could actually help Aries Merritt win his first Olympic medal.
He's had a lot of practice in the rain, including when he ran a sub-13-second time at the Crystal Palace in London in cold, rainy weather early in the season.
"This meet gives me confidence coming into the Games because it shows that I can run in any conditions–rain, cold. I can run in it and I can run fast," said Merritt. "This will be great preparation for the Olympics if the weather is like this."
If the weather in London is rainy again, we could easily see Merritt take walk out with a medal around his neck.
He's the Favorite in London
After working on his seven-step technique, getting healthy and adapting to life as a professional, Aries Merritt is finally in a position to win Olympic gold.
He's ran the fastest time in the world this year at 12.93, doing so twice. Both times came in tough conditions, and if the weather complies and the competition is good, Merritt could break the world record.
He's still improving and has the most potential of any hurdler in the world right now. However, he is about to prove that he's already the best.
Looks like that dare to hop a fence was indeed the smartest move of his life.