He could have given up. With an indoor world championship title and an Olympic gold medal, he'd already accomplished so much in 2012.
When Aries Merritt arrived in Brussels in September for his final Diamond League Race of 2012, he didn't expect much. It had been a long season, he said, and his body was breaking down.
Nevertheless, he decided to give the 110-meter hurdles race his best effort, and after running to a time of 12.80 seconds, Merritt was able to call himself the world record holder.
"It was really special, really magical because it was my last meet of the year. I was ready to come home. I was tired and my feet were hurting," Merritt told the National Scholastic Athletics Association on Jan. 7, speaking from the Texas A & M High School Classic. "My feet were on fire … my body was starting to break down, so I really didn't think I had that in me, and it was something about that day. … I just had a feeling and I went for it."
The previous world record of 12.87 seconds was held by Dayron Robles of Cuba.
Breaking the world record was just one of the many things Merritt had to do to cement himself as the greatest 110-meter hurdler in history. Coupled with his gold medal from the 2012 Olympic Games, Merritt is well on his way to being able to call himself the greatest of all time.
But he doesn't believe he's quite there yet. The 27-year-old wants to be known as a legend, and in order for that to happen, Merritt believes he has to run more sub-13 second races than anyone else in history.
Currently, American Allen Johnson holds that distinction. During his career, Johnson ran 11 legal races faster than 13 seconds. Merritt has run legal eight sub-13 races so far, or "ten if you count the windy ones," he said. Johnson officially retired in 2010 at the age of 39.
Johnson also happens to be the athlete Merritt credits with inspiring his Olympic ambitions. When Merritt was young, he remembers sitting at home and watching Johnson win gold at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
"When I was 11 years old and I saw Allen Johnson win, it was one of those things where (I said) 'Oh, that's what I want to do, Mom.' And she's like 'OK, honey, yeah, that's what you want to do. OK.' And then she was like 'Yeah, right,'" Merritt said during the interview on Jan. 7. "And here I am doing it."
Merritt knows that holding the world record means that he is technically the best 110-meter hurdle runner in history, but it's not quite enough for him, he said. He still believes that Johnson -- whose best time was 12.92 seconds -- is a step ahead of him.
But not for long, if Merritt has anything to say about it.
"Next for me is to try to become legendary," Merritt said during the interview at Texas A & M. "Even though I technically am the best ever because I have the world record, I want to be legendary. I want to become a part of history even more so that I already am. So that's the next step."
After that, Merritt said he thinks he would like to coach. He enjoys watching others become better athletes, he said.
"I like to watch others grow kind of like I did," Merritt said during the interview. "I love coaching, so that's probably something I'm going to pursue when I'm done running."
That won't be for at least three or four more years though, according to Merritt, who believes he is in his athletic prime. Should Merritt continue to run for four more years, he would likely shooting for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
By earning a spot on that team, Merritt could have the opportunity to join a short list of men who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 110-meter hurdles. Lee Calhoun did it in 1956 and 1960, and Roger Kingdom did it in 1984 and 1988.
And that, certainly, would help Merritt leave his mark on track and field history.
Read more from this author: World Record Holder Aries Merritt Reflects on the Changes he Made During the 2012 Season
During her career, Sandra Johnson has covered three Olympic Games. In addition, she also spent time working for the United States Olympic Committee, where she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement while learning about each Olympic sport. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46