After two difficult years, Olympic 110m hurdles champion and world record holder Aries Merritt is back. The US athlete talks injury frustration, giving up ice cream and why he is confident of success in 2015.

Call it superstition, but Aries Merritt had a dream last night, he tells SPIKES.

“I rarely dream about track, but last night I dreamt about becoming a repeat Olympic champion in Rio,” he says. “I was talking to my mom saying, ‘I’m in the history books, I have repeated’. Then I woke up and I realised it was a dream.”

Merritt has had to endure luck more akin to a nightmare over the last couple of seasons, so perhaps there is a sprinkling of irony to the Texas-based hurdler’s dream (comparisons to Bobby Ewing can stop there).

After enjoying his “perfect year” in 2012 ­– winning the Olympic title, obliterating the 110m world record by 0.07 seconds and dipping under 13 seconds a record-breaking eight times – the 2013 and 2014 campaigns have been considerably less memorable.

Aries Merritt ()

A world record and an Olympic gold: not a bad 2012

After his stellar Olympic year, Merritt was eager to get back on the track and challenging for records on the indoor circuit.

“I was planning to break Colin’s record [Colin Jackson’s world indoor 60m hurdles mark of 7.30 set in 1994]. I thought if I start back training sooner, I will pick up where I left off [in 2012] and things would go as planned,” Merritt explains.

Unfortunately for “The Hurdles Magician”, things did not go to plan. A week before he was due to compete in his first serious indoor outing of the season he tore his hamstring in his lead leg.

Just six weeks later he repeated the same injury. In May of that year, at the Shanghai Diamond League meet, he suffered his third hamstring tear on the same left leg. An “horrendous” injury streak.

Despite missing three to four months training, Merritt still ran 13.09 in Paris and he snook himself a spot on the US team for the Moscow World Championships. But Merritt was badly undercooked from the lack of training and he wound up sixth in the final in the Russian capital. Nonetheless, he still finished the year fifth on the world lists.

“I was pleased with my 2013 season,” he says. “To come back and run as fast as I did after ripping my hamstring early off was pretty amazing.” 

Aries Merritt ()

Merritt first made an impact on the global stage at the 2004 World Junior Championships in Grosseto

Frustratingly, the problems continued to plague him in 2014. He strained his trail leg at the beginning of the year and then the lead leg went pop again running a 250m sprint during practise – his fifth hamstring tear in two seasons. He frequently visited world-renowned sports injury specialist Dr Muller-Wohlfahrt in Germany in an effort to correct the problem.

Merritt did compete in 2014 but struggled to make his mark. He failed to win any of his nine 110m hurdles races [finals] for the year, and ended the season joint 16th in the world, registering only a “pedestrian” 13.27 best – almost half a second off his world record of 12.80.

“Luckily 2014 was a dead year [no major global championship] for Americans. The Europeans had their thrill and fill of competing [at the European champs], but the Americans will be back because 2015 is a world championship year and we will be pulling out all the stops.

“For many of us this is likely to be our last Olympic cycle, so we want to go out with a bang.”

Diamond League winner Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, of France, and Russia’s European champion Sergey Shubenkov have all caught Merritt’s eye in 2014. But despite a troubled couple of seasons his confidence has not been dented.

“At the end of the day I am the world record holder and I am Olympic champion,” he says confidently. “I know what I need to do to maintain a clean bill of health and that is to stay on top of hamstrings.” 

Aries Merritt ()

World indoor gold came in Istanbul in 2012

Working hard on muscle strengthening exercises to avoid his recent injury curse, he has also returned to a dairy-free diet that served him so well in his annus mirabilis of 2012. Cutting out ice cream and pizza and other “convenience” foods is a big sacrifice, but one he feels is necessary to reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of injury.

With his diet back on point he is looking forward to a more positive year with typical optimism.

“I can’t slack because I know everyone will be training hard and as the World Championships are in China, I know Liu [Xiang] will be ready and everyone else will be ready and that I will have to bring my A game.”

“I’m going to run a little indoors this year to get some rhythm back, but the main goal is to focus on Beijing,” adds Merritt, who is coached by Andreas Behm. “I really want a world outdoor title. It is the only prize missing from my full repertoire of medals.”