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Friday June 29, 2012

Four of the world’s best 110m hurdlers battle for ticket to London

EUGENE: Four of the world’s best 110m hurdlers will try to book trips to London this weekend at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials but at least one of them will not qualify in the event.

Reigning world champion Jason Richardson (pic), 2008 Olympic bronze medallist David Oliver, 2012 US season leader Aries Merritt and Dexter Faulk will fight for the chance to reach London, where China’s Liu Xiang and Cuba’s Dayron Robles await.

“I definitely see Liu Xiang and Robles, if he’s healthy, and the Americans,” said Richardson.

“For the most part, you can count on having an American up there. I want to be part of that cream that rises to the top.”

Merritt expects a battle in tomorrow’s final, from which only the three top finishers will reach London.

“We’re so even that if one person makes a mistake then the other person is going to win,” he said. “Competing against each other always pushes us into the best performance possible.”

Reigning Olympic champion Robles, who was disqualified from last year’s world final, set the world record of 12.87 in 2008 but pulled out of two US meets earlier this month, with Cuban officials saying he was injured.

Liu Xiang, the 2004 Olympic champion who was forced to drop out of the opening heat at the Beijing Games due to tendinitis, has a career-best 12.88 from 2006 and this year’s world-best time of 12.97 from last month in Shanghai.

“I don’t know how dangerous Liu Xiang is (but) I feel the speed from Shanghai,” Richardson said. “He’s not hurdling his best yet. Nobody is.”

Richardson sees the upcoming month before the start of Olympic athletics as a critical time for stepping up or falling back in the quest for gold.

“That’s where real athletes are made,” he said. “It’s not just enough getting on the team. There’s preparation for trials and peaking for the Games.”

Merritt ranks second to Liu Xiang on this year’s performers list with a career-best 13.03 last month with Cuba’s Orlando Ortega third on 13.09 followed in order by Oliver and Faulk at 13.13, Richardson on 13.16 and Robles on 13.18.

“My preparation has been excellent,” Merritt said.

“I’ve been hitting benchmarks that I haven’t hit in past years.”

Oliver’s career-best run of 12.89 came in 2010 while Richardson’s best of 13.04 came last September at Zagreb after his world title.

“Now I’ve got a target on my back,” Richardson said.

“The pressure here is to make the team but I don’t feel any pressure to win. I feel zero pressure going into London. It’s all a decision with your mentality.

“I can’t change anything in the other lanes.”

Richardson, who dubbed himself the “Man of Steel”, said the tense fight for an Olympic spot will toughen US hurdlers for the challenge to come and they would be worse without the unforgiving system.

“It would make for athletes who aren’t as sure as Americans are,” Richardson said. “By making the team, you know you can win a medal. I’ve gone through the Olympic farm camp. That’s why we’re so successful at the Olympics.”

But no American has claimed 110m hurdles Olympic gold since Allen Johnson in 1996, a drought Oliver hopes to end.

“I don’t have any doubts about my ability. I’m further along than where I was at this point in 2008,” Oliver said. “I’ve run under 13 plenty of times. You don’t do that by accident. I’ve just got to back that up this year.

“You just have to go out there and execute. From a body standpoint, everything is working. I haven’t been able to establish a great rhythm. That’s what the (preliminary) races are for. The hard part is just mental.”

After a two-day rest break, US Olympic berths will be decided in the men’s and women’s 5,000m and men’s discus, pole vault and 3,000m steeplechase. — AFP

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