Omar McLeod celebrates one of his many victories.
Hurdler and Rio Olympics gold medal winner Omar McLeod recalls a childhood “practice drill” of setting up buckets in the road and having his younger brother and cousin join him in racing over them.
That early passion was sustained and in fact intensified, taking McLeod through a stellar high school and college athletics career and even all the way to the Olympics medal podium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as a history — making winner (first Jamaican ever) in the men's 110-metre hurdles. The epic triumph made headlines around the world, inspired a generation of up-and-coming athletes, and marked McLeod — along with his teammates — for a hero's welcome on return to Jamaica. He also beat teammate and legend Usain Bolt for the honour of Jamaican Sportsman of the Year in 2017.
Now, McLeod will join another band of Jamaican sporting heroes and provide further inspiration, as he will be specially honoured by the patrons and organisers of the CB Group-UWI 5K.
McLeod's name is deservedly added to a list that includes legendary track and field Olympian Asafa Powell; celebrated head coach of Racers Track Club, Dr Glen Mills (the first such honoree in 2012); Molly Rhone, OJ, CD, for her service in the field of netball; Dr Michael Fennell, OJ, former president of the Jamaica Olympic Association; and Alfred “Frano” Francis, managing director, Running Events Limited, which co-ordinates the fund-raising run.
From his humble beginnings McLeod became an outstanding high school athlete, running for Manchester High School and later Kingston College. During his early career he competed in both the 110 metres hurdles and the 400m hurdles. He represented Jamaica at the 2011 World Youth Championships in Lille, France, qualifying for the finals in both hurdles events. He placed fourth in the 110-metre hurdles and eighth in the 400-metre hurdles.
At the Carifta Games he won gold in the Under-20 400-metre hurdles in three consecutive years (2011, 2012 and 2013); he scored an additional five medals in the 110-metre hurdles and the 4x100m relay, including a relay gold in 2013. He also won gold in the relay at the 2012 CAC Junior Championships in El Salvador.
In 2013, his final year in high school, McLeod set Jamaican junior records in both the 110-metre hurdles (13.24) and the 400-metre hurdles (49.98) at the Boys' and Girls' Championships, becoming the first Jamaican high schooler to break 50 seconds at the longer distance. After graduating from Kingston College he went to the University of Arkansas on a track and field scholarship.
Inspired by Chinese sporting icon, hurdler Liu Xiang, McLeod continues to be a fixture on the global track and field circuit, competing in Diamond League events and preparing for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. The hurdling champion also has aspirations as a singer, and anticipates a time, in the undeclared future, when he may find himself in a recording studio “just to see what I can do”.
Even if his planned musical exploits don't yield gold, McLeod is undoubtedly a trailblazing Jamaican athlete, and a model of the diligence and indomitable spirit that are part of the Jamaican character, making him a worthy awardee of the CB Group-UWI 5K.
The fund-raising run, which attracted over 5,000 participants last year, will again be under the professional direction of Alfred “Frano” Francis and his team from Running Events Limited. The event to date has raised $70 million. So far, over 200 students have received scholarships to pursue tertiary education.
Registration is now open at www.runningevents.ja.com or at the sports department at The University of the West Indies. Entry fee is $1,200 for adults and $600 for students. Groups of 30 will receive a discounted fee of $1,000 and $500, respectively.
This year's run takes place on November 11. Participants wishing to view the details of the event may visit the website at www.uwi5K.com.jm.