BRUSSELS, Belgium - Olympic champion Aries Merritt set a world record of 12.80 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles on Friday in the final Diamond League meet of the season.
At the Van Damme Memorial, Merritt shot out of the blocks, accelerated through a clean set of hurdles and lunged at the line with both arms flung backward to slice 0.07 seconds off the old mark set by Cuba's Dayron Robles four years ago.
It was the biggest drop in the world record since Renaldo Nehemiah sliced 0.28 seconds off the mark from 13.21 to 12.93 in 1981. Merritt also bettered the American record of 12.89 set by David Oliver in 2010.
The 27-year-old hurdler, who lives in Bryan, Texas, and has been training at Texas A&M in College Station the past few years, already had recorded the six top times of the 2012 season and had come within 0.05 seconds of Robles' world mark. But in balmy conditions with a slight tail wind, he finally shattered the record.
"It was almost perfect," said Merritt. "I knew the track was going to be scorching. This is a dream season for me or anyone. I don't think anyone has had a season like this in the hurdles. I knew setting a world record could happen, but didn't think I would run that fast."
Merritt dominated the entire 2012 season while stars such as Liu Xiang of China and Robles struggled to keep up and then both pulled up injured at the London Olympics. An injury free season was an added benefit for Merritt as he continued to develop in the hurdles with Texas A&M volunteer assistant coach Andreas Behm and Texas A&M assistant coach Vince Anderson.
"Recently, all my races feel the same," noted Merritt. "I've been running the same time over and over. This time I didn't float any hurdles. This time I was able to run hard throughout the race, I didn't back off. I took my body to a place I've never been before, I went to another level.
"There has been a combination of things that helped me have this type of season. Part of it has been maturity. The hurdles are an event where you get better with age as you improve with technique. I changed my training to a seven-step approach instead of eight to the first hurdle. I also changed my diet, and that helped a lot. I'm lean and fit, which allows me to recover faster. I didn't get hurt this year, so I was 100 percent healthy this season."
Even after winning a coveted gold medal in London, Merritt wanted something special to cap the best season of his career. His goal was to clock 12.85. Even his phone password was 1285.
"I knew one day, I didn't know when," he said. "Today happened to be that day. I was in shock when I saw the time pop up on the scoreboard."
Jason Richardson, the 2011 World Champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist finished in second place during the Brussels race with a time of 13.05. London bronze medalist Hansle Parchment of Jamaica placed third in 13.14 while Oliver clocked 13.21 in fifth.
Merritt, who had a personal best of 12.92 in winning the Olympic title, becomes the first hurdler in history to record eight sub 13 second times in one season and he also has the most sub 12.95 times ever with six. Robles had the previous best tally of sub 13s with seven in 2008 while Robles and Oliver shared the most sub 12.95s at four apiece.
Coming into this season Merritt's career best had been 13.09 from the 2007 season. He bettered that standard with a 13.03 in early May at a meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Then a 13.01 was recorded during the semifinals of the Olympic Trials in Eugene. In the Olympic Trials final Merritt won with another PR of 12.93.
Merritt would equal his PR of 12.93 twice, in London at the Aviva Diamond League meet and in Monaco in consecutive races held seven days apart. Following a 12.94 in the Olympic semifinals he lowered his career best to 12.92 in claiming Olympic gold.
As he continued to chase the world record Merritt was disqualified for a false start in Lausanne and then won in Birmingham (12.95) and Berlin (12.97) before achieving his goal with an amazing run of 12.80 in Brussels.
"I was focused on running under 13 for one last time to cap off a really good season, and I obliterated it," stated Merritt. "When I crossed the line and saw the time I was still in shock. I think it was almost the perfect race. I had a good reaction out of the blocks and I just kept going.
"I'm so happy I'm finally living up to my potential after all this time with injuries and hamstring tears and so many people telling me I should throw in the towel and get a normal job."