Merritt, Okagbare sparkle

American hurdler Aries Merritt and Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare showed that they are in prime form and real threats to the big-name favourites at the London Olympics with impressive victories in the Monaco Diamond League meeting on Friday.

In the final warmup event before the Games, which begin in seven days, Merritt roared to yet another sub-13 second victory in the 110 metres hurdles while Okagbare chalked up a second succcessive sub-11 second run to beat another clutch of Olympic hopefuls in the women’s 100 metres. Yelena Isinbeyeva, hoping for a third successive Olympic pole vault title in London, had a night to forget, however, as she failed three times at her opening height of 4.70 metres.

The 2012 Olympic 110 hurdles has long been viewed as one of the potential highlights of the athletics programme, based on another showdoen between China’s Liu Xiang and Cuban Dayron Robles, but Merritt’s performances in recent weeks have ensured it will be much more than a two-man show.

After Liu pulled out injured from the final at a cold and wet Crystal Palace a week ago, Merritt won in 12.93 and he ran the same world leading time for the third time in three weeks on Friday. Fellow-American Jason Richardson was second in 13.07, with Russia’s Sergie Shubenkov edging out another American, Beijing bronze medallist David Oliver, for third. Okagbare is also looking to gatecrash the party at London and she underlined her potential to become Nigeria’s first Olympic 100
metres medalist with another personal best victory.

Having broken 11 seconds for the first time last week en route to taking the scalps of world champion Carmelita Jetter and Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in London she improved again in more favourable conditions to post 10.96.

Tianna Madison, who will also run in London, was second in 10.99 with fellow American Jeneba Tarmoh third in 11.09. Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Ryan Bailey, the United States’ three entrants in the Olympic100, teamed up in the 4x100 relay and scorched to a season’s best 37.61 seconds on the same track where the Santa Monica Track Club, anchored by Carl Lewis, set a then-world record 37.79 21 years ago

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