He is known as ‘Mr Silk’ and tonight Omar McLeod lived up to expectations with a silky-smooth display to power to Jamaica’s maiden Olympic 110m hurdles title in a time of 13.05.
For several decades Jamaica has been a formidable force in flat sprinting, but McLeod’s success proves their talent well is just as deep in the hurdles with the kind of performance which suggests the 22-year-old will be a major force for years to come.
Orlando Ortega secured silver in 13.17 to earn Spain’s first ever sprint or hurdles medal in Olympic history with bronze going to European champion Dimitri Bascou, who edged out his French teammate Pascal Martinot-Lagarde by 0.05, recording 13.24.
The lead US hope Devon Allen placed fifth in 13.31 which meant for the first time in Olympic history – bar the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games – USA failed to win a medal in this event.
As the eight finalists entered the arena to the sounds of Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand, the athletes tried different approaches to help absorb the pressure with Martinot-Lagarde opting slightly bizarrely to chuckle to himself moments before the start.
After the gun fired there was little to separate the eight finalists over the first few hurdles, although if anything Bascou held a slight lead while Ortega had slipped a little off the early pace.
Coming off hurdle five, it was world indoor champion McLeod who emerged at the head of the pack and by hurdle seven held a significant lead. By now Ortega had loomed into medal contention with little to separate the all French duo of Bascou and Martinot-Lagarde.
McLeod, who finished sixth at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, crucially managed to keep his nerve in the latter stages to cleanly snap over the remaining hurdles and flash by the line in 13.05 – the slowest winning time at the Olympics since Mark McKoy secured the 1992 title some 24 years earlier.
This will not of course have concerned an elated McLeod, who emerged as a world-class performer in 2016 and here in Rio sealed the deal with the Olympic title. USA’s Ronnie Ash crashed to the track after belting the final hurdles.
Ortega recovered from his lethargic start to grab the silver medal, finishing four places higher than he did when representing Cuba at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Meanwhile, Bascou took the first French medal in the event since Guy Drut memorably struck gold 40 years ago at the Montreal Olympics.
With Martinot-Lagarde in fourth and Allen the top US athlete in fifth, the remaining two finishers were Johnathan Cabral of Canada in 13.40 followed by Cypriot Milan Trajkovic, who finished one hundredth further back in seventh.
Steve Landells for the IAAF