LONDON – Aries Merritt closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Five years ago on this track, he won the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games London 2012.
Then he went through more than any other Olympic champion to make it back here for the IAAF World Championships.
“I’m a completely different person now than I was then,” Merritt said.
Although he placed fifth Monday night, just making the final was a victory.
Merritt is the first athlete to run in an IAAF world championship final following an organ transplant.
In September of 2015, Merritt received a kidney from his older sister, LaToya Hubbard, who was in the stands, along with their mother, for the final Monday night.
“I’m not even supposed to be running,” Merritt said. “Just me being here in the final is definitely a blessing.”
Running out of Lane 9, where he was disappointed to not be “in the fray” with the favorites, Merritt said, “I had a bad day.”
Olympic champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica won the gold in 13.04 seconds while defending champion Sergey Shubenkov, an Authorized Neutral Athlete (a Russian who is allowed to compete despite his country’s doping issues) won the silver in 13.14.
Balazs Baji of Hungary was third in 13.28, followed by Garfield Darien of France (13.30) and Merritt (13.31).
“I failed to execute late in the race, which is my specialty,” Merritt said. “Finishing is what I do best. I don’t know what happened, I either got too close to nine, which caused me to float.
“It wasn’t really good execution and that’s what gets you a medal.
“Despite that, I’m definitely happy to be here, definitely happy to be back on the world stage. It’s definitely possible for me to medal in the future now that I’ve had a year of proper training. The next year I run will be definitely better. It just wasn’t my day.”
Merritt was the only finalist for Team USA, which failed to win a medal in the event for the first time since the world championships began in 1983.
Merritt said the crowd greeted him warmly. “It feels great to be back in London where I won Olympic gold,” he said.
After becoming Olympic champion, Merritt shattered the world record in September of 2012, and it still stands at 12.80 seconds. But he noticed that he wasn’t feeling well and the track world noticed that he wasn’t as fast as he used to be.
When Merritt got to the 2015 world championships in Beijing, he announced that he was living with only 20 percent kidney function because of a genetic condition and was getting a transplant.
Some might consider Beijing an even greater triumph than London in 2012. Even with such diminished kidney function, Merritt won the bronze medal. Four days later he was on an operating table.
He didn’t make Team USA for the Olympic Games Rio 2016, but this year won a Diamond League event in Rome which he said gave him “a boost of confidence.”
At the USATF Outdoor Championships, Merritt placed second. Aleec Harris, the man who beat him, and Devon Allen, who was third, did not advance to the final, while Merritt did.
Merritt said the difference between worlds two years ago and today is “definitely night and day. In Beijing I was very ill and this year I’m very healthy. It’s a completely different feeling. Completely.”