For the latest episode of IAAF Inside Athletics, Ato Boldon sits down with Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod.
Omar McLeod made history at Rio 2016 when he stormed to gold in 13.05 to win Jamaica’s first ever Olympic hurdles title. While the Caribbean island has produced world-class sprinters en masse over the past decades, their showing in technical events has lagged.
Hansle Parchment was the first Jamaican to win an Olympic sprint hurdles medal when he took bronze at London 2012 before McLeod stormed to his historic victory in Rio.
“We don’t have the depth as you would say in terms of hurdling or the technical events,” McLeod admits.
“Obviously when it comes to sprinting we’re the powerhouse. We’ve got that down. But I think we have grown as a country over the past five or ten years in terms of the technical events. We’re evolving as a country and a lot of athletes are now taking on the event with confidence.”
His and Parchment’s achievements played a role in “setting the pace” for the next generation of great Jamaican hurdlers.
“We have a lot of young athletes like [2014 world U20 silver medallist] Tyler Mason coming up, so I’m really excited for the next four years,” says McLeod.
Jamaican speed clearly hasn’t bypassed the Olympic champion, though. McLeod is the only man in history to have recorded a sub-13 for the 110m hurdles and dipped below 10 in the 100m flat. Yet, too much speed can often be a hindrance to hurdling. It is a problem McLeod knows all too well.
“I use [speed] to my advantage, but I can’t let it get the best of me,” he explains. “I have to adjust, instead of running freely. Coach and I, every time I’m in practice, we have to work on that, my breakdowns. Actually pushing my blocks back two steps because I’m powerful and get out of the blocks really hard.
“It’s something I have to be tentative of every time I run. I cannot run freely, or else I’ll run into the hurdles.”
Unlike most Jamaican athletes, McLeod lives and trains in the United States. At the end of his high school career he had the chance to turn professional, but chose education over a shoe deal. The decision wasn’t easy for the teenager.
“I just didn’t think I was ready,” admits McLeod. “College was the dream, my family’s dream. My dream was to go to the NCAA, grow as an athlete, get a degree.”
The coaches at the University of Arkansas promised they’d prepare him for the pro scene and held up their end of the bargain. “They said they’d get me ready in two years, and in my sophomore year I went professional,” he recalls.
Like 100m hurdles world record holder and close friend Keni Harrison, McLeod does not limit himself to the sprint hurdles. He holds a sub-50 personal best of 49.98 over 400m hurdles – a national junior record – and is confident he can go much faster.
“Last year Coach [Doug Case] told me I was in the form to run a 48 in the 400 hurdles,” he says. “When coach tells you something, I will do it. That’s the trust you have in your coach. So if he says it, why not give it a try?”
But as he tells Boldon, his favourite event does in fact not even involve hurdles, leaving the Trinidadian speechless (something that doesn’t happen often).
To find out which event McLeod is looking to take on in the future and more, watch the full episode below.