FAYETTEVILLE – As a University of Arkansas freshman hurdler in 2014, Omar McLeod dreamed he could just run with Florida’s Eddie Lovett and Texas A&M’s Wayne Davis.
Now — as they approach next month’s World Championships in Beijing, China, as professionals, where McLeod represents Jamaica and Nike, Lovett represents the Virgin Islands and Davis represents Trinidad — Lovett and Davis likely yearn just to run up there with McLeod.
“Things have kind of flipped,” Arkansas men’s sprints-vault coach Doug Case said. “I remember Omar saying when he came here that Eddie was the national champion. Now, the tables have kind of turned a little bit.”
They actually first turned briefly in March 2014 when freshman McLeod beat soon-to-turn-pro upperclassmen Lovett and Davis to win the NCAA Indoor 60-meter hurdles championship in Fayetteville.
“I just wanted to beat those two so bad,” McLeod said. “I remember when I came here I really looked up to those guys. I would watch their videos over and over because those are guys that I somewhat idolized. I just wanted to run with them. This year it was like I was transformed.”
Transformed from a 2014 outdoor season prematurely ended by injuries that McLeod initially brought with him to Arkansas from Jamaica.
Now, after winning the 2015 SEC and NCAA Indoor 60-meter hurdles, including setting a collegiate record 7.45 winning the NCAA Indoor, and winning SEC and NCAA Outdoor 110-meter hurdles championships, including a wind-aided 13.00 to win the NCAA Outdoor after setting an official UA and Drake Relays record winning in 13.21 in legal conditions at Des Moines, Iowa, McLeod topped them all worldwide.
Wearing an Arkansas shirt one last time before signing with Nike, McLeod won Jamaica’s national 110-meter hurdles championship, clocking 12.97 in legal conditions. It is the official world’s best 110-meter hurdles time for 2015 and the best ever collegiate time, shattering the 13.00 that Renaldo Nehemiah ran for Maryland in 1979.
It definitely makes McLeod the man for the World Championships upon his departure from Fayetteville last Saturday prepping for Beijing with three IAFF races in Europe.
Much like Arkansas’ Golden Spikes Award winning, and since turned pro, baseball player Andrew Benintendi prepped for his greatest season by playing no baseball in the summer of 2014, McLeod prepped for his greatest track season in 2015 running no track in the summer of 2014.
Sprints coach Doug Case, strength coach Matt Clark and the training and medical staff, including chiropractor Dr. Steve Whitelaw, put McLeod on a training and rehab program, finally balancing the reoccurring hamstring and quadriceps injuries constantly knocking his health out of balance.
“I sacrificed the entire summer to rehab and all that stuff,” McLeod said. “The sacrifice I made really paid off staying on top of my warmups and cool downs, and working assiduously with my trainers my coaches, my strength coaches … everybody had a different role in insuring I stayed healthy.”
With health, McLeod could practice consistently instead of intermittently. So the more he could practice, “the better” his form became, McLeod said.
“I have spent a tremendous amount of time working on my form,” McLeod said. “Every time I hurdle, me and Coach were dialed in on what you have got to do to stay on top of the hurdles leaning forward. Last year, coming in as a freshman rookie, my hurdle form was all over the place. This year it was like if I can change my form, my times would drop tremendously and that’s what happened.”
It was a group effort, the most of course from McLeod’s superb talents, but talent bound to fall short without all that Case, head coach Chris Bucknam and Clark put in.
For starters, they scratched McLeod from the 400-meter hurdles, though he came out of Jamaica as renowned over the longer race’s intermediate hurdles as over the short race’s high ones.
And, after McLeod won the NCAA Indoor 60-meter hurdles in March, Bucknam and Case shut him down just to train outdoors until his spectacular Drake debut late in April. It kept McLeod fresh to carry the load when he had to, like at the NCAA Outdoor winning the 110 hurdles, and running opening legs on Arkansas’ national championship, UA record-setting 4×100 relay and nationally sixth place 4×400 relay.
“I think we all did a good job of managing him and putting him in the right races at the right time, and that all correlates with his training and his weight training and all that stuff,” Case said. “It came together and he has had a great season so far. We still have got more to go.”
Although McLeod now runs for Nike, Case will coach him at least through the World Championships, especially after McLeod again put Arkansas on the worldwide track stage by running the world’s best time at Jamaica in an Arkansas shirt.
“That was awesome,” Case said. “That stuff gets all over the world. To see him with that Arkansas jersey on that was really great for the university and great for him and great for everything all the way around.”