Aries Merritt’s talent has never been in doubt. A high school state champion many times over, Aries took home gold from the World Junior Track & Field Championships and ended his senior year at the University of Tennesse by earning two national titles for the Volunteers.
As a pro, the turning point Aries’ career came in 2011 when he changed his start pattern from eight steps to seven. Likening it from learning how to write with your opposite hand, the change took a year to take hold, but its fruits were more than obvious the next year. In 2012, he took home gold at the World Indoor Track and Field Championships and won the US Olympic Trials, earning his spot at the London Olympics. At London, Aries’s dominance was never in doubt, and he became the first American to win Olympic gold in the high hurdles since 1996.
With the gold won in London, all that was left for Aries was the world record. In his final race of the year, Aries smashed the world record, running 12.80 seconds, 0.07 seconds better than the previous record, an astounding margin in an event that moves by the slimmest of fractions.
Despite qualifying for the 2013 World Championships, Aries found himself struggling to stay healthy. Upon seeing specialists at the Mayo Clinic, Aries was diagnosed with collapsing focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a rare congenital kidney disease, aggravated by a parvovirus that had attacked his kidneys and bone marrow. In 2015, it was decided that a kidney transplant was the best course of action, though Aries decided to wait until after the World Championships in Beijing to have his season-ending surgery. Amazingly, despite having less than 15% kidney function, Aries managed to qualify for the final in Beijing and won the bronze medal. Just four days after his medal-winning run, Aries underwent his transplant, receiving a kidney donated by his sister, Toya.