The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

My Favorite All Time High Hurdlers

Oct 14th, 2012
2:10 pm PDT

Aries Merritt
I was ‘re-watching the final two Diamond League meets of the year this past weekend, and was just as impressed by Merritt’s WR run as I was when I first saw it. So much so that I began comparing it/him to icons of the event’s past. So while it is all fresh in my mind, I’m going to take a quick detour and put together my all time favorite hurdlers list. Because while Merritt just set a tremendous record and standard, there were several athletes before him that lead to this achievement.

I have to say that this was a difficult list to compile – perhaps the most difficult yet – some very outstanding hurdlers have graced the world of track and field. Limiting this list to just 10 men was extremely hard to do. My cutting room floor was littered with some great names. So at the end of this I am going to list a few honorable mentions – because I simply have a lot more than 10 favorite high hurdlers.

1. Rod Milburn – I’m sure most are surprised to see Milburn leading this list, but Milburn was perhaps the best of the 70’s, and of the dirt track, hand timed era of the sport. Milburn was cool, classy, competitive, and consistent. He set the hand timed WR at 13.0, and set an auto timed record at 13.24 – over 35 years ago! Others have run faster, few have done it all with the style and grace of this man.

2. Renaldo Nehemiah – This man has been like Jerry West, whose shadow was used to create the NBA logo – the vision of the 110 hurdles. During his brief tenure in the sport “Skeets” became perfection in the event. He took the WR from 13.21 down to 12.93! His fluidity over the hurdles was unmatched – until perhaps this year. He brought a combination of speed and technical mastery to the event that took decades to emulate. And his final record still sits as a standard of excellence in the event.

3. Roger Kingdom – If Nehemiah was grace, Kingdom was power – pure power. Milburn & Nehemiah flowed over the hurdles. Kingdom powered his way over them and if they happened to get in the way he ran through them. That’s not the description that one typically associates with a champion hurdler – but Kingdom was anything but a typical hurdler. This man was a back to back Olympic champion in spite of having to overcome injury in between. He was also a WR setter running 12.92. He took power hurdling to a different level. A true stud in the event.

4. Dedy Cooper – If you recognize this name you’re a die hard fan or around my age – or both. Cooper was a mid to late 70’s stud who was a victim of the 1980 Olympic boycott. As a high school star he single handedly won the California State Championships and set multiple records. He continued his winning ways at the next level – halted only by the boycott. A more powerful version of Nehemiah, he was as competitive as they came, and a joy to watch.

5. Allen Johnson – I know that everyone is going to say he should be higher, but this is a list of my favorites not greatest of all time. That said his was certainly the greatest career in terms of longevity and consistency. When it was finally time for him to retire it just didn’t seem right because he had been part of the sport for so long. I watched him mature from a good hurdler when he arrived at North Carolina, to a great one competing on the biggest stages. A smooth calm competitor and gentleman. A role model if there ever was one.

6. Willie Davenport – Davenport was nearing the end of his career as I was becoming aware of the sport. But he was hard to miss because he was still in the thick of the hurdles wars. The only way I can describe him is the energy he seemed to exert during the race. He was solid but not stellar at any phase. Just an uber competitor that was as fast at the end of his career as he was in the beginning.

7. Colin Jackson – Colin was the best hurdler ever produced in Europe – hands down. Quick over the hurdles and a decent short sprinter to boot, Jackson is next in line behind Johnson as far as longevity and consistency. As a matter of fact, they were contemporaries of each other and had several battles over the years. He and Johnson made the hurdles fun to watch for over a decade. Two classy competitors who ran at a level few have achieved.

8. Greg Foster – One half of one of the greatest rivals ever on the sport, as Foster v Nehemiah was a marquee event in the latter half of the 70s and early 80 s. They were the equivalent of Liu v Robles a couple of years ago – except that this pair ran like they didn’t like each other! When they competed it was epic and Foster was the perfect rival with his combination of speed and power. Nehemiah left the sport to soon but Greg stayed and forged a career without him winning the first 3 ever World titles in a row and creating an identity separate from the rivalry. By the time he retired Foster had elevated himself to the level of elder statesman, bowing out gracefully.

9. Guy Drut – Drut was the Liu Xiang of his era – that technically efficient athlete who was head to head as good as his more physically gifted rivals. Drut cut his teeth against Rod Milburn, Willie Davenport and a tough group of early 70’s hurdlers before running things in the middle of the decade including an Olympic title in ’76 an Euro Record of 13.28 that left him just short of Milburn’ s WR. He didn’t receive the accolades he should have as Foster and Nehemiah burst on the scene, but for a short window of time he was the best.

10. Mark Crear – Crear is why Allan Johnson was so good in my humble opinion. The two were contemporaries who pushed each other early in their careers – sort of like Merritt & Richardson this year. Crear was good enough to run a PR  12.98 and take silver in the Atlanta Olympics. But injuries and Johnson’s stellar career have made many forget him. I remember him however, and his heart and competitiveness. One of the best when healthy, so he makes my cut.

I’m sure there are others that will be brought up. There are so many great hurdler’s that have competed over the years. A few that just missed this list are: Alejandro Casanas, Jack Pierce and Mark McCoy, The hurdler’s have always been competitive and ready to race. Just an awesome event with a tremendous history. Just like the long hurdles which I’ll go into next.

9 Responses to “My Favorite All Time High Hurdlers”

  1. Skydance7 says:

    You stirred a little nostalgia here, Conway.

    I’m guessing I’m a little older than you, so you may not remember a young hurdler named Richmond Flowers, Jr. When I hurdled in high school, he was the national HS record-holder (13.5 in the 120 yd. highs), and set the standard every school kid was shooting for.

    He went on to Tennessee to run track and play football. Raced against (and occasionally beat) Davenport and Ervin Hall, who went 1-2 in Mexico City. Flowers was injured and didn’t get past the Trials, but eventually played pro ball with the Cowboys, I believe.

    But for that injury, who knows how far he could have gone in the hurdles? Just goes to show how critical an injury can be in an athlete’s career.

    I like your list. Brought back many memories.

    • CHill says:

      Oh, I remember Flowers .. Almost an urban legends of sorts back in the day .. Ran around the time of his life Lance Bab and Tommie Lee White .. Cooper also ran against a guy called Spider Gaines – big high school rivals .. I also remember his like Charles Foster and James Owens .. Man so many hurdlers .

  2. Ex-Hurdler says:

    Wow, reading your favorites list made me wonder, “hmm whose favorite list might I be on?” Those were all great names that took me back down memory lane, since I ran against seven of them.

    • CHill says:

      Yes I know you ran against them .. and since we once ran together you know you’re a personal favorite .. You gotta admit its one hell of a list ..

  3. Aurelio Feldman says:

    Great list! I only had the oportunity to watch Allen Johnson, Mark Crear and Colin Jackson, but I know the others because history and they were great as well.

    The great thing about hurdlers is that they did not avoid each other, in the 90s I watched Mark Crear ran against Allen Johnson and Colin almost every weekend during the summer.

    And I have to add, Allen Johnson is my favorite athlete of all times, great inside and outside the track.

    I really miss watching him and I feel that he deserved at least another olympic gold medal, but nothing is perfect.

    Only 1 question: No Trammel? or he is not retired yet?

    • CHill says:

      Hurdlers are awesome when it comes to competing .. Always have been ..

      Trammell .. Great hurdler .. If I have to think about his place .. I stick by these as my favorites – for now … As far as a GOAT list, he would sneak on there – for now .. He certainly ha had a great career …

      The thing about the hurdles is that there have been so many great winners … So it’s easy to find 10 hurdler’s that won a lot .. That makes it hard on a guy like Trammell, Tony Campbell, Tony Dees, or Jack Pierce who are all great hurdlers who just happened to run against guys a tad better ..

  4. Craig Johnsn says:

    What ever happened to Dedy Cooper, the track star from Harry Ells High School in Richmond, CA and San Jose State University?

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