Looking ahead to day three of the World Athletics Championships in Moscow on Monday, one of the six gold medals that will be handed out will include the men’s 110m hurdles, and it promises to be a truly cracking final.
Olympic gold medallist Aries Merritt, defending champion Jason Richardson and David Oliver, who has been the season’s leading light in this discipline, all won their respective heats in good style on Sunday morning.
Richardson may struggle to retain his crown this year – bookies certainly believe so, he’s a top-priced 25/1 at the time of writing – but unless Frenchman Thomas Martinot-Lagarde can pull something special out of the bag, the 27-year-old should qualify along with fellow American Merritt from the first semi-final on Monday.
The second semi looks more competitive on paper, though Oliver, who has been in scintillating form this season, is widely expected to come out on top. In the final heat Oliver clocked the quickest time ever outside of a final in a World Championship, crossing the line on 13.05.
In Oliver’s semi Britain’s big hope William Sharman will be lining-up, but he looks set to struggle in a race that also features Ryan Wilson, Jamaica’s Andrew Riley and Russia’s star hurdler Sergey Shubenkov. The last-named, who is 16s with Stan James to win the title but just 8/1 with Ladbrokes, will benefit from strong local support and, if running to near his personal best, should secure a spot in Monday night’s final.
But the big question is whether Oliver, now 31 years of age, can bag the title that his talent richly deserves? He has often fallen short when it comes to the crunch, with just an Olympic Bronze and 60m hurdles bronze in the trophy cabinet, but everything looks in place for him this time, and he’s no bigger than 10/11 – as short as 4/6 in a place – to emerge victorious.
There’s no doubt that he’s the one to beat, but I can ignore the 5/2 on offer with Ladbrokes about Aries Merritt. He was held back by an injury earlier in the year and he’s only fifth in the rankings for 2013 on the clock, but if back to anything near his best, which saw him record an astonishing time of 12.80 in September – the current world record – he will rubbish those odds.
Looking at it laterally, I’d rather back the guy with the big-stage know-how; the guy who saves his best for when it really matters. Whereas Oliver has often flattered to deceive, the 28-year-old Merritt invariably steps up the plate when the pressure is on, and I reckon he’s outstanding value to do so once again on Monday evening.
Aries Merritt to be Men’s 110m Hurdles Winner – 5/2 (Ladbrokes)