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So close

Aries Merritt (right) storming to victory in the 110m hurdles. Barbados’ Ryan Brathwaite is second left.

American Aries Merritt took the 110-metres hurdles this evening at the Olympic Stadium in one of the most hotly contested races of the London 2012 Olympics.

Barbados’ Ryan Brathwaite, who finished second behind Merritt in semi-final heat 2 earlier today in a time of 13.23 seconds, ran a disappointing 13.40 seconds, his slowest time at the Olympics, to finish fifth running out of lane 8. He struck the very first hurdle after a fair start with a 0.163 reaction time.

Merritt, who had a reaction time of 0.143, ran a personal-best 12.92, steaming away from team-mate Jason Richardson, who finished in 13.04 seconds. Richardson had a reaction time of 0.194.

Jamaican Hansie Parchment ran the race of his life clocking a new national record of 13.12 seconds to capture bronze and his country’s first medal in the event. He had a reaction time of 0.172.

World record holder Dayron Robles pulled up mid-race with what appeared to be a hamstring pull.

Stiff competition

The 110 hurdles was arguably the most competitive event of the games. Five of the competitors who entered the opening heats had broken the magic barrier of 13 seconds in the race, something just 14 men in history have ever done. Just three of them survived for the final – Robles, Richardson and Merritt.

Robles, the defending champion, has been hurt for much of the season, and hasn’t been able to compete as much as he would have liked coming into the games. But he is the Usain Bolt of hurdles, and few expected him to lose if he was in form. He wasn’t, and like China’s Liu Xiang, who re-injured his Achilles in the preliminary heat, failed to finish.

In other action today, it took American Brittney Reese just two jumps to win Olympic gold in the women’s long jump.

Reese, the sport’s leading jumper for the past three seasons, reached 7.12 meters on her second attempt of the night, and none of the other women – or even Reese herself – could best it.

Russia’s Elena Sokolova won silver, jumping a personal best 7.07 meters. American Janay Deloach came from behind in the fifth of six jumps to win bronze with 6.89 metres. Reese knew she was guaranteed gold even before her final jump of the evening, after Russia’s Sokolova failed to best her in her final jump.

The last American to win gold in the event was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who set the Olympic record of 7.40 meters in 1988.

Russia’s Natalya Antyukh narrowly bested Lashinda Demus of the U.S. in the 400 meters final, denying a gold medal to the American runner looking to put the cherry on a long comeback. The Czech Republic’s Zuzana Hejnova took home the bronze.

The 29-year-old Demus started fast but found herself a half step behind coming out of the final hurdle, and couldn’t quite close the gap. Antyukh finished in 52.70, with Demus at 52.77.Two other U.S. athletes, Georganne Moline and T’erea Brown, finished fifth and sixth respectively.

Demus’s silver medal gives the U.S track and field 14 in all, evenly split between men and women.

Bolt aiming for double

Earlier in the day Jamaican sprint phenomenon Usain Bolt hardly had to break sweat as he coasted into the men’s 200 metres final where he will bid for an unprecedented Olympic sprint double-double.

Bolt, 25, will be joined in tomorrow’s gold medal showdown by compatriots Warren Weir and his most likely title rival Yohan Blake, as well as America’s one representative Wallace Spearmon.

“I’m ready. This is my favourite event so I’m looking forward to it,” Bolt told reporters after blitzing the first 100 metres to allow a gentle jog on the home straight for a heat- winning time of 20.18 seconds.

“You can’t work too hard, you’ve got the finals. That was the aim, you can’t push too hard.”

The world’s fastest man sped to the 100m and 200m titles in Beijing in 2008 and on Sunday secured the former event once more in scintillating style. Victory in tomorrow’s final would make him unquestionably the sport’s greatest ever sprinter.

Asked if he could break the 19.19 seconds world record he set in Berlin in 2009 Bolt said: “It’s a possibility. I can’t say but the track is fast so it’s going to be a good race.”

The lanky Jamaican said he had wanted to push himself through the bend, resulting in a blistering opening pace

Although Spearmon, who finished third in Beijing in 2008 but was then disqualified for stepping out of his lane, is likely to battle it out with former European champion Christophe Lemaitre for bronze, Bolt did not rule out a Jamaican 1-2-3.

“It’s going to be hard. Wallace Spearmon is there and he’s been there before,” said Bolt, who even managed a smile to camera once he was in the blocks at the start of his race.

“There’s a lot of people there who are going to come and try and spoil the party so we’ll see,” he said, adding that he had managed to do some skipping in the warm-up area having had his rope confiscated before Sunday’s final.

Weir, 22, is also coached by Glen Mills, just like Bolt and Blake.

European champion and Olympic 100 metres finalist Churandy Martina of the Netherlands also qualified.

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