Gold medallist Jamaica’s Omar McLeod celebrates winning the Men’s 110m Hurdles Final during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 16, 2016. (Observer)
In a professional career spanning just over a year, Omar McLeod has achieved the unimaginable.
The Rio Olympic Games 110-metre hurdles champion enjoyed an exceptional 2016 campaign which placed him at number nine on the International Association of Athletics Federations overall men’s world ranking for the year, joining compatriot Usain Bolt, who was ranked number three behind South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk, and Britain’s Mo Farah.
Known as “Mr Silk”, McLeod’s successful year was highlighted by a near-flawless performance which brought him gold in 13.05 seconds at the Rio Olympics. That historic feat earned him the accolade of being Jamaica’s first Olympic Games champion in the obstacle event.
Another major achievement on his highlight reel was a series of outstanding performances that saw him taking the stripes of being the first man to run the 100m and the 110m hurdles in under 10 seconds and under 13 seconds, respectively.
With those striking times of 9.99 seconds and 12.97 seconds, McLeod has been shortlisted for the 2016 RJR Sportsman of the Year Award, alongside triple Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt and West Indies cricketer Marlon Samuels.
Though elated about the recognition of his exploits, the 22-year-old is optimistic about his chances of upstaging the incomparable Bolt.
“It’s always a great feeling when you’re being acknowledged for your hard work, so being nominated for such an award is an absolute honour, especially being selected among two amazing athletes,” the former Manchester High and Kingston College standout told the Jamaica Observer in an interview from his Arkansas base in the United States.
“But you are almost never guaranteed [anything] whenever you go up against Usain for an award; I mean it is what it is. Usain is just a phenom that deserves every award or success that comes his way. Much respect goes out to Marlon Samuels also; he sure carried the West Indies to the ICC T20 title with his dazzling batting in the final,” McLeod added.
He continued: “I am not a person who dwells on winning awards; I don’t even think about it at all. My role is to perform to the best of my ability and then let those charged with the decision making do their jobs.
“I am up against a very strong group of amazing sportsmen and so if I do win, then that would be great because I think I’ve had an exceptional year.”
However, his exceptional year was not without blemish as he suffered two big blows in
July on the Diamond League circuit when he crashed out at the Monaco meet and only four days later, in Hungary.
Prior to that, McLeod, who was sixth at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, worked up an impressive unbeaten run dating back to his IAAF World Indoor 60m hurdles crown in 7.41 seconds in March.
As a man of faith, McLeod pointed out that the humbling experience of his mishaps was a test of his character which brought him to realise that there is never a flawless pathway to success.
“I can very much say that I’ve had more highs than there were lows. I never considered my lows as a “low”, but more like lessons that need to be learned as a professional athlete.
“But overall, I think I’ve had a great year where I created historic performances, won both major titles that were offered this year, one of them being the coveted Olympic gold, so that in itself is a huge blessing,” he noted.
Looking forward to the year ahead with the World Championships title in his sight, McLeod said the aim is to continue working on being the “very best athlete” he can be.
“My preparations are going very well; I’m having the best background training I’ve had in my career in terms of no injury and making major progress in my workouts,” he ended.