EUGENE: Aries Merritt got off to a jittery start in his bid to qualify for the Olympics here Friday, qualifying in third place as heats for the men’s 110 meter hurdles got under way at Hayward Field.
Merritt, the defending Olympic champion, has made a near-miraculous return to top-flight competition since undergoing a kidney transplant in September last year which left his career in jeopardy.
The 30-year-old is aiming to book his place on the US Olympic team for Rio de Janeiro despite warnings from his doctors that his weakened immune system could increase the risk of infection from the Zika virus.
Merritt, who finished his heat in third place in a time of 13.64 seconds, said afterwards he was confident of shaking out the rust in the later rounds after his first outing since May’s Diamond League meeting in Shanghai.
“It just feels good to be back here competing, hopefully tomorrow I’ll be much better,” he told reporters.
“The jitters are out. I’m just looking forward to advancing round by round. There’s always jitters. If you’re not nervous there’s something wrong.”
Merritt’s nerves were reflected in the four hurdles he clipped during his race, a rarity for an athlete renowned for his fluid style over the barriers.
“I hit a lot of hurdles. I’m not typically the type of hurdler that hits barriers but it is what it is,” he said.
“I’m on to the semi so I have another round to clear it up and hopefully onto the final where I can do something magical.
“I’m not as sharp as everyone here; they’ve had like 15 races this season, I’ve had like three.”
Merritt was watched by his elder sister Latoya who donated a kidney to help save her brother’s life in the transplant operation, which took place just days after he competed at the Beijing World Championships where he won bronze.
“I’m lucky to be running, to be out here is a blessing. I’m hoping to do special things tomorrow,” he said.