He also calls himself “flimsy.”
On a windy Friday night at the Drake Relays, the former Wheeler High School star’s slight frame was no match for bulky rookie Andrew Riley.
Riley, the 2012 NCAA winner for Illinois at Drake Stadium, beat London Games gold medalist Merritt — along with the silver and bronze winners from the recent Olympics.
The 169-pound Merritt said a strong headwind of 3.2 meters per second played a factor in his time of 13.48 seconds, which left him second behind Riley.
“The wind, it was very strong. Into your face,” Merritt said. “A hurdler of my stature, I’m really thin ... so a lot of wind is not going to bode well for me. That being said, Andrew Riley is a really, really good athlete. He’s a really muscular guy. He deserves a lot of praise.”
Riley won in 13.43. London silver medalist Jason Richardson was disqualified because of a false start and Jamaican Hansle Parchment, third in the Olympics, ran a disappointing 14.33.
Although it’s still early, Riley was impressive in holding off the top three Olympic finishers at a stadium he has run at dating to his time with the Fighting Illini.
“It’s a perfect confidence-booster considering I’ve been doing a lot these days. I didn’t know if I was going to come here and win this race because big picture is down the road,” Riley said.
Fellow American gold medalist Jenn Suhr also stumbled, falling to Cuba’s Yarisley Silva in the women’s pole vault.
Silva, who had to settle for silver in London, had perhaps the best performance of the meet so far by clearing 15 feet, 11 inches — a sign she might be ready to assume the top spot in the world before long.
Suhr topped out at 15-2¼.
“It was a magnificent week. I came in with certain goals and met them,” Silva said through an interpreter. “(Silva) really liked the environment here because it made her feel welcome and she enjoyed the competition.”
American Michael Tinsley won the 400 hurdles in 48.55, while Iowa native Jenny Simpson rolled to the women’s 1,500 title in a meet-record 4:03.35.
London Games gold medalist Brittney Reese won the women’s long jump with a world-leading mark of 22-9¼.
The Drake Relays has typically been a three-day event, starting with a smattering of prep and college events on Thursday and Friday leading up to a harried crescendo of elite invitationals on Saturday afternoon.
This year, organizers spread out the elite races and field events over the final two days — and offered purses of $50,000 and $25,000 respectively to lure stars to Des Moines in April.
It made for the most talented Friday night field in meet history.
Merritt and Suhr were part of seven events billed as London Games rematches, pitting athletes competing at the recent Olympics against each other.
Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, the silver medalist in London, easily won the men’s 400 over the likes of American Jeremy Wariner. Dusty Jonas won the men’s high jump at 7-7.
Simpson, who finished out of medal contention at the 2012 Olympics, won the 1,500 by over 4 seconds. But the breakout star of the race just might have been 16-year-old sensation Mary Cain, who broke the national high school record by finishing sixth in 4:10.77.
“I’m still young and I still just have to take races like this one step at a time,” Cain said. “Before the race I kept telling myself, ‘You learn from mistakes, so if this isn’t the best race of your life, you can still learn.’”