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story.lead_photo.caption Jamaica's Omar McLeod celebrates winning gold in the men's 110-meter hurdles final, during the athletics competitions in the Olympic stadium of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A month before Omar McLeod ran the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympics, he fell at a meet in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Gallery: Arkansans in the Olympics

Two days later, Arkansas' four-time NCAA champion fell again at a meet in Budapest, Hungary.

Those were the last two races for McLeod -- the world leader in the event -- going into the Olympics.

"Two falls in two weeks. How bad does it get?" McLeod said Saturday before a training session at John McDonnell Field. "But it was something I learned from.

[ARKANSANS IN RIO: Full coverage of 24 in Olympics]

"When I went to the Olympics, I was a brand-new person."

Or maybe he was just the old Omar McLeod.

Motivated and refocused after the falls, McLeod earned an Olympic gold medal running for his native Jamaica in Rio de Janerio, where he won the 110 hurdles in 13.05 seconds Tuesday night. Spain's Orlando Ortega took second in 13.17.

It was a huge winning margin for an Olympic sprints final.

"I got out, and I was reserved because I didn't want my speed to get the best of me," said McLeod, who has run 9.99 in the 100. "Then I just let go.

"When I was at the fifth hurdle, I was just like, 'Just be you.' Then I started to gap them. I did what I've been doing all season."

McLeod had been undefeated on the pro circuit this year, including a victory in the 60 hurdles at the World Indoor Championships in March, until the falls in Monte Carlo and Budapest.

"I'm not a cocky person, but it was humbling in the fact that I came to the realization that things do happen in the sport, and you're never guaranteed a perfect race or a perfect career," he said. "Things happen, especially in my event. It's hurdles.

"They say the best hurdlers have to fall once or twice to prove just how great they are. It happened, and it was a true test of character."

Arkansas assistant Doug Case, who coaches the sprints and continues to coach McLeod, said they didn't talk a lot about the falls.

"In athletics, sometimes you don't talk about the bad thing that happened before because it's over," Case said. "It's more, 'Let's approach the positive end and do what we have to work on to fix that so it doesn't happen again.' "

Case said McLeod was trying too hard in the races when he fell. He took a more relaxed approach at the Olympics.

"I knew as soon as I saw his prelim and how smooth and even he was," Case said. "He was back."

McLeod returned to Fayetteville for a few days before going to Rio de Janeiro. He said he appreciated the support from his coaches and the community, and he took the time for reflection on what he needed to do to regain his winning form at the Olympics.

"I think it was a blessing in disguise, to be honest," McLeod said of the falls. "It was like I needed that to happen.

"A lot of people were doubting me going into the Olympics saying, 'OK, he's had two falls back to back. He's not the Omar McLeod he was in the preseason.'

"I fueled off of that. I was like, 'OK, y'all can talk. Let's just see.' I used all the negativity and channeled it into positivity."

McLeod didn't hit a hurdle in the first round, semifinals or final at the Olympics as he won each race.

"I just needed to trust myself," he said. "Trust my ability, listen to coach and just do what I do best."

McLeod said it hasn't sunk in that he's an Olympic gold medalist.

"Words cannot describe that moment," he said. "I relive it every second. It was a mind-blowing experience."

McLeod, 22, said he'll have time to celebrate his Olympic victory after completing the track season in three weeks with meets scheduled in Lausane and Zurich, Switzerland, and Brussels.

"Then I'll finally take a break and can eat my Popeye's and all that stuff," McLeod said. "I'm ready for that."

Case said that after the season, he plans to work with McLeod on some changes in his hurdling technique that should help him become faster.

"Omar's very humble, and he works as hard as anybody I've ever coached," Case said. "That tells me he's going to have a long career. He's going to get even better."

Sports on 08/21/2016

Print Headline: McLeod hit Olympic stride after two falls

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