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Aries Merritt After Kidney Transplant: My Fitness Is Better Than It’s Been In Two Years

By Karen Rosen | March 07, 2016, 9:48 p.m. (ET)

Aries Merritt poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit on March 7, 2016 in Los Angeles.

Thanks to a new kidney, Aries Merritt resurrected an old goal.

He now has a chance to defend his Olympic gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Merritt’s kidney transplant ton Sept. 1, 2015 – four days after he won the bronze medal at the 2015 world championships in Beijing – was such a great success that he plans to return to competition this weekend in the 60-meter hurdles at the USATF Indoor Track & Field Championships in Portland, Oregon. The meet is the qualifier for the IAAF World Indoor Championships March 17-20 in Portland.

“If the surgery didn’t go as planned, I definitely wouldn’t be here right now,” Merritt, 30, told journalists at the Team USA Media Summit on Monday in Los Angeles. “I would definitely be in the hospital somewhere.”

Merritt’s sister, LaToya Hubbard, donated a kidney after undergoing tests that proved she was a match. “I call it the ultimate physical,” he said of the testing.

Merritt, who was living with only 20 percent kidney function because of a genetic condition, needed the surgery if he hoped to continue competing. He is the reigning world-record holder, running 12.80 seconds on Sept. 7, 2012.

Merritt said LaToya didn’t hesitate to get tested when he told her of his condition. The siblings have always been close despite an eight-year age difference.

As soon as he woke up after the surgery, Merritt wanted to go to her hospital room. “I had a lot of energy,” he said. “It was just really hard with the incision and the pain and the catheter, but I made my way to my sister’s room and I saw her.”

Since the surgery, Merritt wasted no time in returning to training. He hurdled for the first time in December after a foray to the track in October caused a hematoma that required further surgery.

“My fitness is better than it’s ever been the last two years,” Merritt said.

Now that he has normal body chemistry, he can do interval training. Before the surgery, if he did eight reps of 150 meters, it would take him 10 minutes to recover. Now he can recover in 2 ½ minutes “like a normal athlete,” Merritt said. “It really makes me excited moving forward because I know something special is going to happen.”

While Merritt spoke of taking medication the rest of his life so his body does not reject the kidney, drugs of a different nature dominated the conversation at the Media Summit.

Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova announced Monday that she had failed a doping test at the Australian Open, which followed previous reports of rampant doping in Russian and Kenyan track and field.

“My confidence is still a little thin” that competition in Rio will be clean, said Alysia Montaño, who was fifth at the London 2012 Olympics in the 800-meter behind two Russian runners implicated in systemic doping. A World Anti-Doping Agency report has recommended the two Russians receive lifetime bans.

Montaño said she was “just completely flabbergasted” to find out Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes did not have a lab where they were being tested, compared to U.S. athletes who must alert the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of their movements.

As “things are continuing to be uncovered,” Montaño said, there was a “part of human nature which is hopeful."

She wants the IAAF to “really prove they care more about the clean athletes than they do about their own backside.

“I want to say I am confident that regardless it is possible to beat dopers if they’re there or not,” Montaño added.

She became emotional talking about the issue. “The essence of sport is supposed to be about self-betterment,” she said. “I have an 18-month-old daughter I want to love sport. The thing that dopers take from us is the idea of amazing. As a mother, I’m really passionate about it.”

Among the six track and field athletes at the Media Summit, only Meb Keflezighi has booked his ticket to Rio. Keflezighi, who will be 41 years old in May, was second at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Marathon last month in Los Angeles.

Rio will mark his fourth Olympic Games and his 24th marathon. Keflezighi said he plans to compete in 26 marathons – for the number of miles in the race – through his 42nd year – for the number of kilometers in the marathon.

“Age is nothing but a number,” Keflezighi said. “If you take care of yourself, great things wait for you in the future.”

At age 30, Allyson Felix will try to make the Olympic team in the 200 – in which she is reigning Olympic champion – as well as the 400-meters. Felix has benefited from a schedule change in Rio that makes a double doable.

However, she said, “The schedule is still very, very difficult. Both events overlap each other.”

On the morning of Aug. 15, Felix will compete in the first round of the 200, then run the 400 final that night.

Michael Johnson of the U.S. and Marie-Jose Perec of France accomplished the double at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.

“I’m very grateful for this unique opportunity,” Felix said, “but it’s still going to be a huge challenge.”

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Allyson Felix

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Aries Merritt

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