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Merritt faces Bolt, Rudisha for IAAF Athlete of the Year

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Associated Press
11/23/2012 3:00:46 PM
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BARCELONA, Spain -- Olympic hurdles champion Aries Merritt is facing some of his toughest competition at the IAAF's 100th anniversary gala.

Three months after winning the 110-meter hurdles at the London Games, Merritt will be up against Usain Bolt and 800-meter gold medallist David Rudisha for the IAAF's World Athlete of the Year award.

Although Bolt will be tough to beat after the Jamaican sprinter retained his 100 and 200 titles in London, Merritt did make a case for himself by following up his gold medal run with a world record in the hurdles in September.

"It was a storybook year," Merritt said Friday. "This has been a fairy tale."

Merritt's goal for 2013 will be to go even faster than the 12.80 seconds he ran in Brussels at the Van Damme Memorial on Sept. 7.

"My coaches said that my approach could have been better, and that I floated on my last hurdle (in Brussels)," the 27-year-old Merritt said. "They said that if I corrected those things I could have run 12.70."

Merritt's record was 0.07 seconds faster than the previous mark held by Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles.

Bolt said that all three finalists deserve to win the award after "a great year with great performances."

The six-time gold medallist added: "For me it's all about hard work, staying focused and pushing myself, and hopefully at the end of the year it pays off."

Bolt's teammate and closest competitor Yohan Blake said that he would give his fellow countryman "the edge" to get the award.

"It's a tough one," said Blake, who took silver behind Bolt in the both 100 and 200 metres in London. "I would say Usain (should win), not because he is my friend, but for doing it again four years later. He put in a lot of work."

Rudisha, who set a world record in the 800, shared the Bolt's view of 2012.

"All of us did something special this year," the Kenyan runner said. "Bolt is a legend for repeating what he did in 2008. And Merritt did very well breaking the record in the 110 hurdles.

"Comparing all of us, it is very difficult to tell who will win, but whoever wins, we will all be very happy."

Merritt spoke Friday alongside hurdling greats Renaldo Nehemiah, Colin Jackson and Harrison Dillard, who won the 100-meter sprint at the 1948 Olympics and the 110 hurdles four years later in Helsinki.

Nehemiah, a former world record holder who later played in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers, said that Merritt had recovered the "art" of hurdling.

"In my generation we had to be skilled, we studied the art form of hurdling," Nehemiah said. "For many years after me I thought people were just running fast, knocking down hurdles.

"(Merritt) is poetry in motion. That's why he is having a great career."

Allyson Felix, Valerie Adams and Jessica Ennis -- all gold medallists from the London Olympics -- are in contention for the women's award from the IAAF.

Both awards will be announced Saturday.

Aries Merritt (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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