Iowa Hawkeyes

Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt brings comeback tour to the University of Iowa

Top-ranked USA high hurdler wins 60 meters at Larry Wieczorek Invitational, eyes 2020 Olympics

2012 Olympic gold medal winner Aries Merritt, pictured here at the 2017 USA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif., won the 60-meter high hurdles Saturday at the Larry Wieczorek Invitational at the University of Iowa Recreation Building in Iowa City, Iowa, on January 20, 2018. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
2012 Olympic gold medal winner Aries Merritt, pictured here at the 2017 USA Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif., won the 60-meter high hurdles Saturday at the Larry Wieczorek Invitational at the University of Iowa Recreation Building in Iowa City, Iowa, on January 20, 2018. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — Doctors told Aries Merritt he would never run competitively again.

Two years after winning a gold medal in the 110-meter high hurdles at the 2012 Olympics in London, Merritt experienced constant fatigue, swollen limbs and was unable to keep food down. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Ariz., delivered some sobering news.

His kidney was failing.

“They said, ‘There is no way you could ever run, your kidney function is nil,’” said Merritt, who won the Olympic Development 60-meter hurdles in 7.54 seconds at the second-annual Larry Wieczorek Track and Field Invitational Saturday at the University of Iowa Recreation Building. “You’re going to be on dialysis for the rest of your life.“

In August of 2015, Merritt received a kidney from his sister and with his specific kidney disease, doctors feared that the new organ could be attacked as well, confirming their belief of a lost career.

Weeks after the transplant, it was determined the new kidney was fine.

Merritt competed in just three meets leading up to the 2016 Olympic Trials and 11 months removed from the transplant, he missed out on a Rio bid in the 110 high hurdles by a hundredth of a second.

“It was heartbreaking,” Merritt said. “But it was a blessing at the same time. My doctors did not want me to go to Rio because of the Zika (virus). My immunity was still suppressed. I had no immunity at that time.”

Last year was his first full year of competition since the surgery. Merritt finished ranked third in the world and first in the United States by the publication Track and Field News. He still holds the world record in the 110 high hurdles with a time of 12.80 seconds set in 2012 at Brussels, Belgium.

Merritt, 32, was one of 32 professional athletes to compete in Iowa City, plus collegiate athletes from Iowa, Arizona, Florida State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Louisiana State, Minnesota, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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An invitation from Iowa Director of Track and Field Joey Woody — his competitor at the beginning of his career — convinced Merritt to visit.

“It’s a bit far for me, but it was worth the trip,” said Merritt, a Chicago native and former University of Tennessee athlete. “I ran a season’s best. The crowd here was just great. The fans were just so welcoming for us athletes. It is one of the big track states. They have Drake Relays. They have this meet now and it’s a place that I’ll keep coming back to for sure.”

Now healthy and back to his customary form, Merritt has set his sights on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“I want to try and get my title back,” Merritt said. “I want to win another Olympic title. Who knows, maybe break my world record. That’s a stretch, though.”

Given all he has overcome, who is to say he couldn’t?

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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