Scrappy, inconsistent and out-of-character; Omar McLeod’s races for the first half this season were essentially a reflection of the difficulties he has faced throughout the year.
The Jamaican has been the stand-out performer in the sprint hurdles in recent years, winning the world indoor and Olympic gold medals in 2016 followed by the world title in 2017. McLeod won 21 of his 25 races – including heats – between April 2016 and May 2018, having been under the tutelage of Edrick Floreal for most of that period.
But McLeod picked up a mid-season injury in 2018, then later that year Floreal moved from Kentucky to take on a new coaching role in Texas. McLeod had to make some changes and decided to move to Florida to be coached by Tony Ross.
McLeod’s 2019 campaign started promisingly enough, winning his first IAAF Diamond League race of the season with a 13.12 clocking in Shanghai. What made the feat all the more impressive is that it came one day after the death of his aunt, one of his closest relatives.
But as the season progressed, McLeod started to struggle and was beaten in Nanjing, Rabat, Stanford and London. Never before in his professional career had he suffered four successive defeats.
“I was going through the season feeling unsure about a lot of things: I lost my aunt, things went downhill, I was unsure of my situation, I was getting hurt. I just didn’t think I was in the best situation to defend my (world) title and run fast,” he said.
“I had to tell myself, ‘you’re the defending champion, you need to act like that, and you need to put yourself in the best situation to go defend that title and don’t have a pity party for yourself.”
Few athletes make changes to their coaching set-up in the middle of the season. For McLeod, though, his move to Rana Reider seems to have already lifted a weight off his shoulders.
Just two weeks ago McLeod relocated to Germany, Reider’s temporary summer base, where he now trains alongside an all-star multi-talented group that includes the likes of world and Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor, triple Olympic sprint medallist Andre De Grasse, two-time world indoor 60m hurdles champion Nia Ali, 2014 European 200m champion Adam Gemili, Asian 200m record-holder Xie Zhenye and double German sprint champion Tatjana Pinto.
“The situation I’m in is almost like boot camp. We’re in a dorm and all we do is eat, sleep and train. It’s a good situation because I want to go out there and train, I’m eager to be around my teammates, I’m eager to listen to my coach and do whatever he tells me to do. I’m happy.”
McLeod’s season up until now hasn’t exactly been plain sailing, but the 25-year-old is relishing getting back into a championship setting among the rest of the world’s best.
“I’m the defending champion and I’ll be up against the same people I run with every year,” says McLeod, who, as defending champion, will have a wildcard entry to the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019. “They’re all getting stronger and stronger. Most of them, like Shubenkov and Ortega, are approaching 29 which are like the peak years.
“But I can’t really watch that, I just need to stick to what works for me. I know myself so well, I know what works for me, I just need to be honest with myself and pull off the win.”
On 30 September – exactly six weeks from today – McLeod will line up for the 110m hurdles heats at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019. Two days later, he hopes to be standing on the top step of the podium at the Khalifa International Stadium.
“Winning the world title would mean a huge deal,” he says. “I’m a championship performer, I know exactly what it takes to win a title.
“I know me so well that if I’m in the right situation with a coach that knows what he’s doing and has confidence in me and trusts that I can get the job done and I have equal trust in him, then we can do magic, we can win whatever title.
“I don’t take my competitors for granted, they’re all great athletes,” he adds. “But I know me and I can only stick to what I know. I know that if I’m healthy and happy, I’m unstoppable.” (IAAF)
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