August 28, 2015
BEIJING – The gold medal of the 110m hurdles went to Sergey Shubenkov of Russia in a personal best of 12.98 as he became the 20th member of the sub-13.00 club and the silver to Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment in 13.03, but the real winner on Friday night was Aries Merritt, who took home the bronze in 13.04 just four days before he receives a new kidney from his sister LaToya.
Merritt, who has 20% function in his kidneys, has known since the Prefontaine Classic in late May that he would undergo the kidney transplant. He still wanted to compete at these Worlds anyway, not knowing if his athletics career might come to an end with the surgery.
What he did at Worlds was truly amazing. Yesterday in the semis he ran 13.08, his fastest time since his world record year of 2012. He followed that up with a better performance on Friday, clocking 13.04. If he never races another step, track fans might want to remember Aries Merritt for today’s run, not his Olympic gold or his world record in 2012.
“This bronze medal’s going to shine brighter than my gold [from the 2012 Olympics] for sure because despite everything I’m going through I was still able to pull off a medal, a season’s best of 13.04. I’m so happy I was able to come out here and just perform and be mentally tough in these rounds. It’s very hard to run rounds with my current state of health,” Merritt told LRC in the video below.
Merritt detailed at the post-race press conference that he suffers from collapsing FSGS, a rare kidney disorder “found predominantly in African-Americans” and that he has been “operating for months now at under 20% kidney function.”
He has had to alter his training to do less reps, he can’t eat as much protein, he can’t process potassium, and as a result he’s lost weight (6 lbs under his world record weight).
Merritt said “just to make the final was a blessing. I feel like my bronze medal is a gold medal to be honest.”
It’s hard to disagree with Merritt’s assessment. After his 2012 season where he got Olympic gold and ran a 12.80 world record, he only ran 13.09 twice in 2013, and then in 2014 only ran under 13.37 once. To come back this year, facing his transplant, and run 13.04 when it mattered most is a testament to his fortitude. Merritt said it best, “It’s just been a struggle. It’s been very tough for me these last couple of years. Just to be here at these championships shows that I’m mentally tough and I have the heart of a champion.”
Gold medallist Sergey Shubenkov agreed. You can watch the full post-race press conference below but the highlight for us was at the 3:16 mark when Shubenkov confirmed with Merritt that he really was having a kidney transplant on Tuesday. Shubenkov just shakes his head in bewilderment. Later he said, “It is beyond my realization” that Merritt could start to resemble his 2012 self while facing such a serious condition.
Merritt however does not think Friday night was the last we will see of him on the track.
“I’m very optimistic about my surgery. I feel like I’ll be able to recover. You may not see me indoors, but hopefully you’ll…see more for the outdoor season and I’ll be able to make the US team [for the Rio Olympics].”
Race Video for US visitors: