Barcelona - Olympic hurdles champion Aries Merritt is facing some of his toughest competition at the IAAF's 100th anniversary gala.
Three months after winning the 110m hurdles at the London Games, Merritt will be up against Usain Bolt and 800m gold medalist David Rudisha for the IAAF's World Athlete of the Year award.
Although Bolt will be tough to beat after the Jamaican sprinter retained his 100m and 200m titles in London, Merritt did make a case for himself by following up his gold medal run with a world record in the hurdles in September.
"It was a storybook year," Merritt said on Friday. "This has been a fairy tale."
Merritt's goal for 2013 will be to go even faster than the 12.80 seconds he ran in Brussels at the Van Damme Memorial on September 7.
"My coaches said that my approach could have been better, and that I floated on my last hurdle (in Brussels)," the 27-year-old Merritt said.
"They said that if I corrected those things I could have run 12.70."
Merritt's record was 0.07 seconds faster than the previous mark held by Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles.
Bolt said that all three finalists deserve to win the award after "a great year with great performances."
The Jamaican runner added: "For me it's all about hard work, staying focused and pushing myself, and hopefully at the end of the year it pays off."
Rudisha, who set a world record in the 800m, shared the sprinter's view of 2012.
"All of us did something special this year," he said. "Bolt is a legend for repeating what he did in 2008. And Merritt did very well breaking the record in the 110m hurdles.
"Comparing all of us, it is very difficult to tell who will win, but whoever wins, we will all be very happy."
Merritt spoke on Friday alongside hurdling greats Renaldo Nehemiah, Colin Jackson and Harrison Dillard, who won the 100m sprint at the 1948 Olympics and the 110m hurdles four years later in Helsinki.
Nehemiah, a former world record holder who later played in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers, said that Merritt had recovered the "art" of hurdling.
"In my generation we had to be skilled, we studied the art form of hurdling," Nehemiah said. "For many years after me I thought people were just running fast, knocking down hurdles.
"(Merritt) is poetry in motion. That's why he is having a great career."
Allyson Felix, Valerie Adams and Jessica Ennis - all gold medalists from the London Olympics - are in contention for the women's award from the IAAF.
Both awards will be announced on Saturday.