Aries Merritt
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Aries Merritt faces more hurdles in months after kidney transplant

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EUGENE, Ore. — Aries Merritt said his doctors are “very, very concerned” and “troubled” if he goes to Rio after a September kidney transplant, because he is more susceptible to infections, including the Zika virus, than the normal person.

“They’ve asked me many times, have you considered not going,” he said Wednesday. “I’m like, that’s not an option.”

Merritt also takes a risk every time he takes on a hurdle in competition. Should he crash and hit somebody, or some thing, it could damage the kidney.

“If I was playing football, I wouldn’t be able to play football anymore,” Merritt said. “I I got hit one time [playing football], I’d lose a kidney.”

Merritt races at the Olympic Trials on Friday and Saturday at Hayward Field, where he must finish in the top three to defend his Olympic 110m hurdles title in Rio.

He is ranked No. 3 in the U.S. this year, making him a contender, arguably a favorite to make the team, but not necessarily to win the event.

In a way, Merritt is reminded of his kidney transplant every time he clears a hurdle. The thigh of his right trail leg rises toward his lower abdomen, near the scar from his Sept. 1 procedure.

“I do feel the incisional area,” Merritt said, adding that he also feels kidney spasms outside of races, as surrounding muscles continue to move back into place. “There has been discomfort.”

Yet Merritt says he’s healthy and training just as he was in 2012, except for two setbacks in the 10 months since receiving a kidney from older sister LaToya Hubbard. Doctors told him then he should wait until 2017 to compete again.

Merritt had none of it with an Olympic year coming up. About six weeks after the transplant he jogged, only to find out he needed a follow-up, mid-October surgery due to a hematoma that had developed that was crushing the kidney.

He returned to full training in January and in the spring raced in three meets, each occasion running faster than the previous. He reached 13.24 seconds on May 18, ranking him second among Americans for the year at that point (but still well off his 12.80 world record one month after the London Olympics).

Merritt then raced at the Prefontaine Classic here in Eugene on May 28 and finished fourth in 13.51 seconds. He hobbled over the final six hurdles after straining a groin on hurdle four (video here). It was unrelated to his kidneys (the non-functioning ones were not removed in the transplant surgery).

Track and Field Trials: Daily Schedule | TV Schedule

Merritt said it took two to three weeks to return from that injury. He hasn’t raced since May 28, but Merritt doesn’t look at what’s happened in the last 10 months as a disadvantage heading into his first-round heat at Trials on Friday afternoon.

“If I step on the line, I’m as vulnerable as they are,” he said. “The 10 barriers are your biggest enemies, not the people you’re competing against.”

Yet there’s no question the Rio favorite is Jamaican Omar McLeod, who owns the five fastest times in the world this year with a best of 12.98. The Merritt of four years ago was easily capable of beating that.

At the 2015 World Championships, Merritt took bronze in 13.04 seconds (McLeod was sixth). He had the kidney transplant four days later.

Merritt used the word “ugly” to describe what it will be like if he gets to Rio and becomes the first man to repeat as Olympic 110m hurdles champion since Roger Kingdom in 1988.

“I’ll be on the track crying somewhere,” Merritt said, “because of all the pain, all the suffering and all the depression I went through to get to this point.”

MORE: After Trials, it’s Caster; U.S. women’s 800m team gets no break in Rio

Noah Lyles raises black-gloved fist, wins 200m in Monaco

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Noah Lyles said he had plans going forward to make statements, beyond his rapid sprint times. He did that in Monaco on Friday.

Lyles raised a black, fingerless-gloved right fist before getting into the blocks to win a 200m in his first international race of the season, conjuring memories of the famous 1968 Olympic podium gesture.

He clocked 19.76 seconds, leading a one-two with younger brother Josephus. Full results are here.

“As athletes it’s hard to show that you love your country and also say that change is needed,” was posted on Lyles’ Instagram, along with hashtags including #blacklivesmatter. “This is my way of saying this country is great but it can be better.”

Lyles, the world 200m champion, also paid respect to 1968 Olympic 200m gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos three hours before the race.

He tweeted an iconic image of Smith and Carlos raising their single black-gloved fists on the medal stand at the Mexico City Games. Thirteen minutes earlier, Lyles posted an Instagram Story image of his socks for the meet — plain, dark colored.

Smith and Carlos wore black socks without shoes on the podium to signify endemic poverty back in the U.S. at the time.

Lyles is known for his socks, often posting images of colorful pairs he wears before races, themes including Speed Racer, R2-D2 and Sonic the Hedgehog.

“We are at the point where you can’t do nothing anymore,” Lyles said Wednesday. “There aren’t any rules set out. You’re kind of just pushing the boundary as far as you can go. Some people have said, even if there were rules, they’re willing to go farther than that.”

MORE: Noah, Josephus Lyles take 4-year journey to Monaco

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Joshua Cheptegei breaks 5000m world record in Monaco

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Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei broke a 16-year-old world record in the 5000m by nearly two seconds, clocking 12:35.36 in Monaco on Friday.

Cheptegei, the 2019 World 10,000m champion who reportedly needed 80 hours to travel from Uganda for the Diamond League meet, took 1.99 seconds off Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele‘s world record from 2004. Bekele is also the 10,000m world-record holder and the second-fastest marathoner in history.

“It took a lot of mind setting to keep being motivated this year because so many people are staying at home, but you have to stay motivated,” Cheptegei said, according to organizers. “I pushed myself, I had the right staff with me, the right coach.”

Cheptegei, 23, came into Monaco as the 73rd-fastest man in history with a personal best of 12:57.41. But he declared before the meet that the world record was his goal, given he had no Olympics or world championships to peak for this year.

“It is very difficult to run any world record,” was posted on the Instagram of Bekele, who is part of the NN Running Team with Cheptegei. “Congratulations to my teammate [Cheptegei].”

Full Monaco results are here. The Diamond League next moves to Stockholm on Aug. 23.

In other events Friday, Noah Lyles easily won a 200m after raising a black-gloved first before the start. More on Lyles’ gesture and victory here.

Donavan Brazier extended a year-plus 800m win streak, clocking 1:43.15 and holding off countryman Bryce Hoppel by .08. Brazier won his last seven meets, including national, world and Diamond League titles in 2019, when he broke a 34-year-old American record.

Olympic silver medalist Orlando Ortega of Spain won the 110m hurdles in 13.11 seconds, overtaking world champion Grant Holloway. Holloway, who won worlds in 13.10 last autumn, finished fourth in 13.19.

Timothy Cheruiyot followed his 2019 World title by clocking his second-fastest 1500m ever. The Kenyan recorded 3:28.45, holding off Norwegian 19-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who set a European record of 3:28.68.

Sifan Hassan, the world’s top female distance runner, dropped out of the 5000m with two and a half laps left while in the lead pack. Two-time world champion Hellen Obiri won in 14:22.12, surging past Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey on the final lap.

Karsten Warholm ran the joint eighth-fastest 400m hurdles in history, a 47.10 against a field that lacked rivals Rai Benjamin and Abderrahman Samba. Warholm, the two-time world champion, ranks second in history with a personal best of 46.92, trailing only American Kevin Young‘s 46.78 from the 1992 Olympics.

American Lynna Irby won her Diamond League debut with a 50.50 in the 400m. Irby, the second-fastest American in 2018, failed to make the 2019 World team. On Friday, she beat Wadeline Jonathas, the top American in 2019.

Pole vault world-record holder Mondo Duplantis needed three tries to clear 5.70 meters, then won with a 5.80-meter clearance (and then cleared six meters). Duplantis, whose mom drove his poles 25 hours from Sweden to Monaco, brought the world record to 6.18 meters in February.

American Sam Kendricks, two-time reigning world pole vault champion, did not compete because his poles did not arrive.

MORE: Noah, Josephus Lyles take 4-year journey to Monaco

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