LONDON – The tune blaring across the stadium sound system was unmistakable: “Jamming” by Bob Marley. The flag the winner paraded around the track was familiar, too: The black, green and gold cross of Jamaica.
That 110-meter hurdler Omar McLeod was at the center of this celebration Monday wasn’t all that big a surprise. That McLeod was the first from the island to do the honors at this year’s world championships still feels like something of a shock.
The 23-year-old from Kingston did what Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson could not the previous nights in the 100 meters — namely, powered toward the finish line and left the field behind to bring a gold medal home to a country that has come to expect nothing less.
“I took it upon myself to reroute that and bring that spark back,” said McLeod, who adds this gold medal to his Olympic title from last year. “I’m happy I did that.”
McLeod won in 13.04 seconds, while the world-record holder, American Aries Merritt, finished fifth. It marked the first disappointment of the meet for the U.S. on a straightaway where Justin Gatlin and Tori Bowie won the 100 and Christian Coleman finished second to Gatlin and one spot ahead of Bolt.
The U.S. got shut out of the medals in the 110 hurdles for the first time since the world championships were first contested in 1983. That, plus the unlikely notion of McLeod, not Bolt, breaking the ice at the top of the podium for Jamaica were Exhibits 1 and 1a of why they run the races.
“Everyone in the hurdling game is hurdling well,” said Merritt, who was competing in his first major competition since a kidney transplant after the 2015 worlds. “The event is much deeper than it has been in a long time.”
Sergey Shubenkov of Russia finished .1 seconds behind McLeod for the silver medal, though that prize will go in nobody’s column.
Shubenkov came in as the defending world champion, but was not able to compete at the Olympics last year because of the doping scandal that has engulfed his country. He is one of 19 Russians cleared to compete in London this year — his anti-doping regimen judged to be robust enough to return to competition.
But with Russia’s track federation still suspended, all 19 of the Russians are competing as neutral athletes. They are wearing aqua, red and pink uniforms with no hint of the Russian flag or any other Russian symbol.
“Not a big deal,” Shubenkov said. “There are a lot of people in my hometown, it’s 4 or 5 a.m., and they’re not sleeping. It means a lot for my family. It means a lot for every person in my country that was watching it, supporting me. The color of the vest doesn’t matter.”
Asked whether doping is still a problem in his home country, Shubenkov insisted “not only in Russia but worldwide.”
“I’m not into the subject, really,” he said. “Since my clearance, I got into my training and I’m not as much into the news as I was last year.”
Other gold medalists Monday were Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas in the triple jump and Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk in the hammer throw.
Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon won the 1,500 meters, while Caster Semenya moved from fifth to third over the last 50 meters to capture the bronze — along with a position behind a microphone for the medalists’ news conference.
The IAAF is looking to reinstate an overturned ban on Semenya, claiming her higher-than-normal testosterone levels give her an unfair advantage over the other women. It’s an issue playing out in hearing rooms, and it could be resolved by early next year. Pressed, as she often is in these circumstances, about a case that has been in the headlines for nearly a decade, she said she was unconcerned.
“It’s their business, not mine,” she said. “As a human, you get to a point where you just focus on you. … Such situations are a waste of time for me. I can’t really put my mind on them.”
Semenya was wrapping up her race at about the same time news started circulating about a stomach virus that hit several athletes competing in London. Among those afflicted was Isaac Makwala of Botswana, who pulled out of the 200-meter heats earlier in the day and could be compromised for the 400-meter final Tuesday, where he was expected to challenge defending champion Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa.
Asked about the illness, the hurdlers knew nothing of it.
“This is my first time hearing about it,” McLeod said.
But how’s this for breaking news: McLeod, who has previously cracked the 10-second barrier in the 100 meters, said he would be available later this week to run on the Jamaican 4×100 relay team, where Bolt will return to make his final bid for gold.
They may take him up on that. Then again, he’s done a lot already.
“I wanted to dedicate this win to Usain Bolt’s retirement,” McLeod said. “He set the legacy for Jamaican track and field. It was only right I do it for him.”