A product of Wheeler High School in east Cobb, he has won at the 110-meter distance at a variety of levels — a state championship in high school, an NCAA title at Tennessee and a world indoor crown on the professional level.
Now, Merritt has his sights set on the most prestigious prize of them all — Olympic gold.
He won his trademark event at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, qualifying for a spot in London for the Summer Olympics.
It will be the first Olympics for the 26-year-old Merritt, who won at the U.S. trials with a time of 12.93 seconds — a new world-best mark for 2012 — to beat out fellow Olympians Jason Richardson and Jeff Porter at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
“It’s really exciting to qualify for my first Olympic team,” Merritt said. “It’s a dream come true.”
The Wheeler graduate becomes the third athlete from his alma mater to find his way to the world’s grandest stage in the last two Olympiads.
Reggie Witherspoon, a teammate of Merritt’s in high school, was a part of the gold medal-winning U.S. 1,600 relay team at the 2008 Games in Beijing. At the same time, Robby Ginepri competed for the U.S. men’s tennis team.
Merritt not only owns the world’s top time in the 110 hurdles. He’s posted four of the top seven times posted this year.
Merritt will begin his quest for gold with the first round of competition at London’s Olympic Stadium on Aug. 7, with the semifinals and finals slated for the following day.
He’ll need a similar showing to what he gave at the U.S. trials.
After sweeping the first round and the semifinals, Merritt took charge in the finals as he led from start to finish, edging Richardson just before the tape.
Richardson was second at 12.98, and Porter third at 13.08, to join Merritt in London.
“The race started well. I got a good start,” Merritt said. “I just stayed very focused on my lane and did not look over at the other competitors. I did start to slow down a little bit at the end, but I was able to hold on.”
Merritt was thrilled to be able to achieve such a fast time in the wet and rainy conditions of Oregon — very similar to the damp weather that is normal for London at this time of year.
“It was very wet (in Oregon), so I’m very happy with how I did — considering that we will probably have the same kind of weather in London,” Merritt said. “It shows me that I can run well in those kinds of conditions.”
Giving Merritt even more encouragement was his stellar performance last Friday at the IAAF Aviva London Grand Prix meet.
He gave the spectators in the Olympic city a possible preview of things to come when he once again ran 12.93 to win convincingly over Richardson (13.06) and fellow American Ryan Wilson (13.18) in the wet and chilly conditions.
“(The weather) was really bad, so it shows again that I am able to run in any conditions,” Merritt said. “I was very happy with my performance.”
Merritt has one more warmup meet before the Olympics, on Friday at the IAAF Herculis meet in Monaco. He will once again face his countrymen, Richardson and Porter, as well as a number of other hurdlers who he will be competing against at the Olympics.
“I’ll be facing some of the same guys that I will be seeing in London, so it will be a good test,” said Merritt, who will be going back to London after the meet.
Since the Olympic trials, Merritt had been busy putting the finishing touches to his pre-London preparations at his training base in College Station, Texas, before traveling to London for the Grand Prix meet.
“Training has been going great,” Merritt said. “I’ve been doing some fine-tuning, working on technique. I had been training harder than ever and the hard work has been paying off.”
Merritt is considered the favorite to win the gold medal based on his status as the world’s top-ranked 110-meter hurdler. However, he faces a strong field of competitors that includes Richardson and the last two Olympic gold medalists — 2008 champion Dayron Robles of Cuba and 2004 winner Liu Xiang of China.
But Merritt said he is focusing on his own performance and not on any of his formidable challengers as he aims for a medal.
“I’m going to be competing against some great hurdlers, but I’m just going to focus on my race,” Merritt said. “I’m just going to do the same things that I’ve been doing all year. I want to win a medal and get on the medal stand. If I can be an Olympic champion in the process, that will be a bonus for me.”