Aries Merritt etched his name in high hurdle history in 2012. He ended a 16-year U.S. Olympic gold medal drought by winning the London Olympics, and a month later became the first American since Roger Kingdom in 1989 to claim the world record, clocking 12.80 to win the IAAF Diamond Trophy. That 12.80 lowered the WR by .07 seconds, the largest improvement since Renaldo Nehemiah did the same when he ran the first sub-13 at 12.93 in 1981.
David Oliver is the reigning World Champion, winning gold at Moscow in 2013. He is a two-time Pre Classic champ, and his 2010 victory at 12.90 equaled the American record at the time and remains the fastest ever run on U.S. soil. Oliver is the only athlete in this event to rank in the world top 10 by Track & Field News in each of the last nine years, including twice at No. 1, while also becoming the only two-time winner of the IAAF Diamond Trophy in this event (2010 & 2013).
France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde torched last year’s IAAF Diamond League at age 22, winning the Pre Classic—the first of five Diamond League victories—and coming away with the Diamond Trophy and T&FN No. 1 world ranking. His 12.95 last year made France just the second nation with more than one sub-13 high hurdler. This summer in Beijing, he will be seeking his first outdoor major medal, having already collected World silver (2014) and bronze (2012) medals indoors in the 60-meter version.
Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov earned World bronze in 2013 and is the two-time reigning European champion (2012 & 2014). Shubenkov ranked No. 2 in the world last year by T&FN after a No. 3 in 2013 – no one else has two top-3 rankings in the last two years. He is the 24-year-old son of heptathlete Natalya Shubenkova, whose total of 6859 points in 1984 was then the world’s No. 3 all-time.
Hansle Parchment lowered Jamaica’s national record to sub-13 territory in 2014. He was second to Martinot-Lagarde last year after posting a stunning victory in the 2013 Pre Classic. He was 22 when he earned the Olympic bronze medal in 2012, the first Olympic medal for Jamaica in this event.
Orlando Ortega of Cuba is only 23 years old and was an Olympic finalist in 2012. Outdoors he is just .02 shy of joining the sub-13 club, while indoors this winter he posted the world’s fastest 60-meter hurdle time at 7.45. Ortega was runner-up at the 2013 Pre Classic to Parchment, by .03 seconds.
American Aleec Harris has yet to lose this year, indoors or out, with a pair of world-leading marks of 13.23; last year he was the NCAA runner-up and set two PRs at Hayward Field.
Wenjun Xie will be making his first Prefontaine Classic appearance. He won the Asian Games last year at age 24 and is China’s third-fastest-ever high hurdler. The only one faster from China at his age was former WR setter Liu Xiang, a four-time Pre Classic champion.
The Prefontaine Classic is the longest-running outdoor invitational track & field meet in America and is part of the elite IAAF Diamond League of meets held worldwide annually. The Pre Classic’s results score has rated No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in each of the last four years by All-Athletics.com, the official data partner of the IAAF Diamond League.
Steve Prefontaine is a legend in the sport of track & field and is the most inspirational distance runner in American history. He set a national high school 2-mile record (8:41.5) while at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Oregon, that is the fastest ever in a National Federation-sanctioned race. While competing for the University of Oregon, he won national cross country championships (3) and outdoor track 3-Mile/5000-meter championships (4), and never lost a collegiate track race at any distance. As a collegiate junior, he made the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team and nearly won an Olympic medal, finishing 4th in the 5K at the 1972 Munich Olympics, at age 22. After finishing college in 1973 and preparing for a return to the Olympics in 1976, he continued to improve, setting many American records. His life ended tragically on May 30, 1975, the result of an auto accident, at age 24. The Pre Classic began that year and has been held every year since.