26.05.2008 – Graham Croker
Sydney University’s Justin Merlino was one of the first athletes to compete at the Beijing Olympic Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, when he contested the 100m hurdles on the first day of competition at a Beijing Olympics Test Event during the week.
Merlino contested the same heat as reigning Olympic champion Liu Xiang of China and ran a solid time of 13.84s to qualify for the semi-final. He ran 13.86s to finish fourth in the semi-final, missing out on a berth in the final by .007s.
China dominated the final with Liu running 13.18s to edge out Shi Dongpeng (13.29s) and Ji Wei (13.41s).
The four-day Test Event attracted 932 athletes from 14 countries competing in 42 Olympic events
Merlino said it was “an amazing experience” competing at the venue and running in the lane next to Liu, who is a celebrity in China and one of the faces of the Games.
The Sydney University Sport and Fitness and NSW Institute of Sport Scholarship holder set his sights on the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games after winning the 110m hurdles title at the 85th Australian Athletics Championships at QEII Stadium, Brisbane in 2007.
Merlino won the title on a personal best time of 13.55s to take the crown from New Zealander James Mortimer (13.71s) and fellow New South Welshman Greg Eyears (13.72s). More importantly, Merlino’s time was an A qualifier, guaranteeing him entry to the World Championships and the Olympics.
In winning the title he became the second fastest Australian over the 110m hurdles, behind 1996 Atlanta Olympic finalist, Kyle Vander-Kuyp, who set the Australian benchmark of 13.29s at the 1995 World Championships.