World championship bronze-winning hurdler heading to Rio despite weak immune system and doctor's warning
Eugene (United States): Aries Merritt on Wednesday said he plans to compete at next month's Olympics despite advice from doctors who fear the sprint hurdler's weakened immune system following a kidney transplant could leave him susceptible to the Zika virus.
Aries Merritt underwent a kidney transplant last year, just four days after winning a bronze at the World Championships in Beijing. Pic/Getty Images
Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion in the 110m hurdles, has made a remarkable comeback after undergoing a kidney transplant last September, just four days after winning a bronze medal at the World Championships in Beijing.
The 30-year-old world record-holder is aiming to seal his ticket to Rio de Janeiro this week at the US Olympic track and field trials in Oregon.
However, Merritt revealed his bid to compete in Brazil went against the wishes of the medical team, fearing that the mosquito-borne Zika could pose a risk to the sprinter.
"They are really concerned about the whole Zika thing because I am immune suppressed so I am susceptible to infection a lot more easier than other people," Merritt said when asked about his doctors' concerns.
"They are very, very concerned. They have asked many times 'Have you considered not going?' and I said, 'Well that's not an option — if I make it I'm going.' It troubles them a lot. It does."
Although a slew of top golfers, including Rory McIlroy, have pulled out of the Olympics citing Zika, Brazilian officials say the risk of infection is on the wane as temperatures in Brazil drop.
Merritt said while he had been given advice to wear long sleeve clothing and use insect repellent, he believed the risks from Zika were overblown.
"We have Zika here in America and if I haven't gotten it yet I don't think it's a big deal," he said. "Whenever you go to any major sporting event, whether it's an Olympic Games or a Super Bowl, there's always some controversy," he said.
"With London it was like 'Oh they're not going to be ready, they don't have the staff.' And then London was the best Olympic games ever.
"I really don't think it's a big deal. I'm 30, the next Olympic Games I'll be 34. I don't have time to be skipping stuff."