The proverbial stars aligned perfectly last night at the 36th edition of the Memorial van Damme in Brussels, the second of two Samsung Diamond League finals, where the 27-year-old American stunned the sell-out crowd with his 12.80 World record*, to break the previous mark, set by Dayron Robles in Ostrava in 2008, by a whopping 0.07 seconds.
In the ten weeks prior to Brussels, Merritt produced a spectacular series of performances, not only fast but consistent: 12.93, US Olympics Trials, 30 June; 12.93, London Grand Prix, 13 July; 12.93, Monaco Diamond League, 20 July; 12.94, Olympic semi-final, 8 August; 12.92, Olympic final, 8 August; 12.95, Birmingham Diamond League, 26 July; and 12.97, Berlin, 2 September. Given those numbers, his ‘perfect race’ was indeed just a matter of time.
Merritt met with the international press in Brussels just after his World record performance. Here are some of the highlights.
Was it the perfect race?
“I think it was the best race of my life.” (laughs)
“I think it was technically a good race. I executed the start, I cleared the hurdles low, I ran in between the hurdles great. I think it was the perfect race. But I think there’s always room for improvement, I think there’s still more left. And I’m going to go back to the drawing board and keep trying to get better.”
Was he focusing solely on the World record after his Olympic triumph?
“In Lausanne I was pretty eager to run something that’s never been done before. And I ended up false starting. Which is unfortunate, but things like that happen and you just have to refocus and put your best foot forward.”
“I tried to put my best foot forward in Birmingham and I ran 12.95. It wasn’t technically sound and it was into a headwind. And so I knew that there was more room left. And then I went to Berlin and I ran a really, really hard 12.97. I was trying to run the record again. I was trying so hard and then thought, ‘OK I just can’t do it.’ Because I was straining.”
“Then this time I just didn’t even have the record in my mind. I just wanted to run a sub-thirteen performance to cap off my season and I ended up doing that in World record form.”
On the build-up to his race while in Brussels:
“I arrived on Monday and went to the track on Tuesday. I didn’t have a track workout on Tuesday but I did step foot on the track and I knew that it was incredibly fast.
“And then on Thursday, my last training session, I just knew I was going to run really fast. Because the hurdles were coming up so fast. I just knew that something special would happen today if I could stay on my feet and run a clean race.”
Was he frustrated when he kept running consistently in the low 12.90s:
“For a point I was kind of getting frustrated because I kept running the same time over and over. I kept running 12.93, 12.93, 12.93. So at the Olympic Games I really wanted to run under 12.93. And I ended up doing it – I ran 12.92 – but deep down inside I was angry, I thought, damnit, why can’t I run faster that 12.92? My prelim was 12.94 and it was so easy. I wasn’t running as hard as I could have. So I just knew that I had a 12.8 in me. But it didn’t happen in the Olympic final.”
“Then I went to Lausanne, and I thought, ‘Okay, this is going to be the time that I was going to do it. But then I got charged with a false start. Then I went to the UK, and in Birmingham there was a headwind.”
“You never know when you’re going to break a world record, it just happens.”
What were his initial thoughts when he saw the scoreboard?
“When I first saw 12.81 come up, I just thought, ‘What? What is this?’ I was in complete shock. I just couldn’t believe that 12.81 popped up on the board. And then they rounded it to 12.80, and I just started screaming. I was just in complete shock. I just couldn’t believe that I ran that fast.”
“My vision was, when I did break the world record, to run 12.85,” Merritt said. “12.85 is all over. It’s on everything. It’s in my email. It’s the password to my phone. 12.85 was everything. Now I’ll have to change my passwords.”
On how his body feels now in comparison to after a 12.90 race:
“My body feels likes it’s completely shot. When I had been running 12.93, I didn’t feel completely tapped out. Right now I feel like I won’t be able to run tomorrow. (laughs) My body is experiencing a lot of lactic acid and is knotting up as we speak. I’ll need to get some work done just so I can get on the plane tomorrow.”
On being confident that he could break the World record:
“I just said that I would come out here and try to run under 13 (seconds), no pressure involved. I’ve been pretty much running sub-thirteen with my eyes closed. It’s like every time I stepped on the track it’s been sub thirteen.”
“I just knew that one day, I didn’t know when, but that one day if I was to run a good race, a technically sound race, that I would run a really fast time. And today happened to be that day.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF and the Samsung Diamond League