The men's 110-meter hurdles has some different favorites than expected in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
With the preliminary heats concluded, one top competitor failed to advance. China's Liu Xiang, who won the gold at the 2004 Olympics, didn't get over the first hurdle. And according to Andrew Das of the New York Times:
Chines track official says Liu will have tests at hospital, but strongly suggests his right Achilles' is torn. #london2012— Andrew Das (@AndrewDasNYT) August 7, 2012
Such an unfortunate way to go out.
And to open the field even more, Poland's Artur Noga—who took fifth in Beijing—pulled up before the first hurdle in the same heat, per NBC News photo blog.
To that end, the window of opportunity has extended itself. So, let's look at a revised list of the top medal contenders in the men's 110-meter hurdles.
Aries Merritt was already a top contender, and in running 13.07 seconds during the prelims, he enters the semifinals with the fastest time by 0.16 seconds.
The current world indoor champion for the 60-meter hurdles, Merritt has also been enjoying a strong 2012 season at the 110-meter distance as well. With the quick explosion needed in the 60 that transitions well into the 110, we'll see Merritt at the front when most races begin.
His top speed bodes well for between the hurdles and finishing, so it's no surprise he won the prelims by a significant margin either.
As long as that quick burst remains from the gun at the beginning, Merritt will easily challenge for gold.
Cuba's Dayron Robles ran 13.33 seconds in the prelims, which is nowhere near his fastest time.
However, what we're seeing is a veteran who knows efficiency.
The 2008 gold-medal winner in Beijing, Robles ran a similar prelim time four years ago and then gradually increased speed through each round. In the final, he was the lone competitor to break the 13-second mark.
In addition to winning gold at the 2011 Pan American Games, Robles is also the current world record-holder (12.87 seconds).
A sleeper contender in the 110-meter hurdlers, Jamaica's Richard Phillips ran 13.47 seconds in the prelims and is lumped in with the pack.
Still, Phillips was a finalist at the 2008 Summer Games and took seventh with a time of 13.6 seconds. Certainly not extremely fast for a final, but Phillips has the experience to only improve.
Plus, he also has excellent sprinter speed to get between the hurdles and catch anyone toward the end. Provided that Phillips reduces his time by one or two tenths, we'll see him in the final again.
And considering that's he's 29 years old (time winding down), it's reasonable to suspect he'll put in more effort than ever before.
Running 13.33 seconds, Jason Richardson tied with Dayron Robles for the sixth-fastest time in the prelims.
And although Richardson is only competing in his first Olympic Games, the potential resides to make a run for gold. With a time of 13.16, he won the 2011 World Championships and is coming off a personal best at the Olympic Trials.
There, Richardson clocked 12.98 seconds, which will only improve once competing in a faster heat. In the semifinals and presumably the final, expect Richardson to be near the front by closing the gap toward the world record.
He's only 21 years of age but Russia's Sergey Shubenkov is on the brink of really developing as a world-class hurdler.
Finishing the prelims at 13.26 seconds, he's tied for third heading into the semifinals.
Shubenkov won the 2011 European Championships at 13.16 seconds and ran his personal best of 13.09 twice earlier this year. Proving to run with solid consistency in 2012, Shubenkov has a great shot to make the final and medal.
Now he will need to run near 13 flat or slightly under for better odds at a medal, but much like everyone else, you can expect faster times against faster competition.
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