EUGENE, Ore. -- Friday morning before he raced at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Omar McLeod tweeted that he was dedicating the day to his aunt.
Then the Arkansas sophomore ran three events and won national titles in two of them. He ran the leadoff leg for Arkansas’ victorious 4x100-meter relay team, and less than an hour later, he won the 110 hurdles in 13.01 seconds. He ran the current fastest wind-aided 110 meter hurdles time in the world.None of it would have ever been possible without his late aunt, who passed away at 27 years old last year.
“She was the main reason why I came to college. She was like ‘Omar, go to college,’ ” he said. “They [his family] actually wanted me to go pro after high school, and I didn’t want that. And she was like, ‘Omar you need to go to college’ and I promised her that I am going to make her proud.”
On Wednesday at qualifiers, McLeod ran the third-fastest all-conditions time in NCAA history. He finished in 13.08, which was also the fastest all-conditions performance by a collegian since 1979. He also picked up a championship at this year’s indoor season, winning in the 60-meter hurdles.
Before the race, McLeod participated in his usual ritual. The Jamaican walked up to the first hurdle, placed his hands on the top and looked down the runway. He says he likes to talk to the hurdles before the race to get in the zone.
“Every race I go to the hurdles and I talk to the hurdles and I say, ‘You’re my baby, just be quiet and gave me a clean race,’ ” he said. “I just talk and pray and zone in, so it feels like I am the only one in the race.”
The chat paid off.
McLeod had a clean race and was able to secure the lead after jumping over the seventh hurdle, passing second-place finisher Johnathan Cabral of Oregon.
“I definitely felt him,” McLeod said. “Normally I zone out, but I saw him so I was like, ‘No you got to kick, you gotta step it up.’”
This year’s outdoor championship meant a lot to McLeod. Last year he suffered a pulled quadriceps injury and missed the trip to Oregon. He said this year was his redemption.
“Coming in, I was thinking about it a lot,” he said. “You have a lot at stake and a lot of people depending on you, the team depending on you -- but I had to re-evaluate myself. I had to talk to myself and talk to my mom and say, ‘I got to let it go, last year was last year.’ I have to put it behind me.”
McLeod also ran the leadoff leg for Arkansas’ 4x100 relay, which it won in 38.47, and was part of the 4x400 relay, which finished fifth in 3:05.91.
“We won the 4X100, which was a shock to everybody. I PRed in my 110 -- I know it was wind aided but I don’t care,” he said, laughing. “It’s still fast.”
Despite participating in three events, McLeod said that he feels good, but thinks he may feel the effects on his body tomorrow.
McLeod said he is very happy with his team’s accomplishments at the championships. He pointed out the squad was ranked sixth coming in, but took home third place.
“Everybody played their role and they stepped up big time. I am really proud of my teammates,” he said.
Next up, McLeod will head back to Jamaica to train in hopes of making the team for the world championships. He is excited to get home and be greeted by what he calls a great support system.
After the win in the hurdles, McLeod put his yellow and green beaded necklace to his head and looked to the sky for one more conversation. He now had to talk to his aunt.
“She would of been the first person to call me, she would have been so excited,” he said.
“I am just happy I made her proud. Every thing today was just for her.”