If you like speed and competition then you must like the hurdles. Unlike the pure sprinters, who seem to avoid each other as much as possible until forced to toe the line for championships, the hurdlers compete often and face each other with regularity.
The sprinters tend to get more publicity but of the four hurdle events three of them have legitimate shots at having WR’s broken – two by more than one individual. The hurdles are among the hottest events in the sport, with some of it’s best athletes. If you’re not watching the hurdles you’re missing some of the best competition the sport has to offer. Here’s why.
Men’s 110 Hurdles – Will this be the deepest event in London?
As we speak this event has the three fastest men in history looking for a showdown in London. WR holder Dayron Robles (CUB, 12.87) is the defending Olympic champion. Liu Xiang (CHN, 12.88) is the second fastest man ever and the previous Olympic champion having won in Athens. American Record holder David Oliver (12.89) is #3 all-time and the bronze medalist from Beijing. On paper they are the favorites to take the podium in London. The caveat is that all have suffered from injuries in recent seasons, so the key is how healthy they are when the time comes to run for the medals.
At their best, Liu is the most decorated and technically sound of the trio. Before his injury woes, he set the WR twice, won Olympic & World gold, and threw in a World silver. In ‘08 Robles shaved his record and took Olympic gold in his backyard, then was struck by injuries of his own. Oliver had a season for the books in 2010 then had his own injury ills last year. The healthiest man will have an advantage. Yet as good as these hurdlers are they’re not assured of a sweep of the medals. Look no further than last year’s World Championships where Jason Richardson (USA, 13.04) came through to take home the gold as Robles & Liu became a bit too preoccupied with each other and Oliver was just a tad off. Richardson had a breakout season and should be even better in 2012.
Then there is super veteran Terrence Trammell (USA, 12.95) – silver in ‘00, ‘03, ‘04, ‘07, and ‘09. Trammell is the fastest of the major contenders over the flat (10.04) and #10 all-time over the barriers. As his record shows he’s one tough competitor when healthy. He too, however, has had injury woes over the last few seasons – though he appeared to be healthy and back to form indoors. If he’s right a Big Three sweep most likely goes out the window, because he has the early speed to make others falter.
So does Aries Merritt (USA, 13.09) who also ran well indoors – well enough to win World 60H gold over Liu. Similar form outdoors puts him in the mix. Then my “wild card” is American Ryan Wilson (13.02) – perhaps the most underrated near sub13 hurdler out there. Anyone that close to sub13 is a solid race away from potentially being on the podium and should be considered a threat.
Women’s 100 Hurdles – Can anyone get close to Pearson?
Everyone has challengers. Bolt has Blake and Gay. Vlasic has Chicherova. Everyone has someone breathing down their necks waiting for that millisecond when preparation and opportunity come together to give them their shot at the top of the podium. Then there is Sally Pearson who seemingly must fall down on the track in order for the competition to have a shot at beating her. By the end of last year her only competition was the clock and history – and at 12.28 seconds she came within .08 of beating both.
In human terms, there is a group of Americans with credentials that put them in the same zip code with Sally. Danielle Carruthers (12.47) and Dawn Harper (12.47) set their PR’s chasing after Sally in Daegu – and Sally reached that level this year before the first day of spring. Lolo Jones (12.43) was injured last year, but may have the best speed to challenge and put pressure on Pearson early – but can she hold it without cracking. She appeared to be over her injuries indoors so we will see how well she is able to challenge. Ginnie Crawford (12.45) has the best foot speed at 11.10 for 100 meters – but has been “off” her best form for a few seasons now. There is also Kelli Wells (12.50) who seemed hot early last year, then fell off late. The US squad is deep in this event and should send three strong women to London – then they have to face Super Girl.
Outside of this group, Brit Tiffany Porter (12.56) showed much improvement last year. Similar improvement could find her as Pearson’s top challenger – but there is something about that 12.4x zone that is difficult for most hurdlers to get past. And at the end of the day that’s rally the issue in this event – can anyone else get under 12.40 and get close to Pearson.
Men’s 400 Hurdles – Are we witnessing a transition?
Every event goes through that period where the top dogs go away and new blood takes over. The mid 2000’s was that period in the men’s sprints and it appears that as we begin to approach the mid 20-teens that we’ could be seeing that transition in the long hurdles. Last year’s World champion, Dai Greene (GBR, 47.88) was the first in history not to run under 48 seconds, as the men that have dominated over the last decade showed signs of weakness. Greene will be looking to repeat that performance at home in London, but can’t count on such mass ineptness from the competition.
Angelo Taylor (USA, 47.25) won Olympic gold in ‘00 out of lane 1, then came back in ‘08 to take another title – yet looked like anything but a medal threat in Daegu. Ditto teammate Bershawn Jackson (USA, 47.30) who after being a regular medalist for the past decade, and having a near career season in 2010, had trouble putting his races together last year. And there was Kerron Clement (USA, 47.24) who in spite of being World Champion twice and Olympic runner up in ‘08 had trouble getting under 49 seconds in 2011. At their best these three could sweep the medals in London, but at last year’s level could struggle to make the team. All three will be looking to improve on what were uncharacteristic years in 2011.
L.J. Van Zyl (RSA, 47.66) dominated everyone early last year and twice ran his PR – but he had nothing left after June and was far off his form of the early spring. Better management of his season could produce better results when he needs them in London. Javier Culson (PUR, 47.72) has had a couple of very solid seasons, and was runner up in both Berlin and Daegu. If he’s ready to run fast he could become “The Man” in London.
Then there is a group of youngsters that could have a serious impact on this event. Jeshua Anderson (USA, 47.93) won three NCAA titles and made his first World team last year. But 49.33 didn’t get him out of his semi in Daegu. Anderson is extremely talented and strong and I don’t see him being in that position twice in a row should he get the opportunity. The man that won the one NCAA title that Anderson missed is Johnny Dutch (USA, 47.63) who had a sensational 2010 season. But Johnny didn’t follow up well last year, and the question for this year is which Johnny shows up. If it’s the 2010 version he could be a serious threat. Finally there is Jehue Gordon (TRI, 48.26) who became the #2 all-time junior performer with his 4th place finish in Berlin. He’s run in the mid 48’s the past couple of seasons and is due to for a break out this year. Given the current state of the event, any or all of these youngsters could find themselves on the London podium.
Women’s 400 Hurdles – Can anyone outrun Demus & Walker ?
That’s really been the story of this event for a couple of championships now – Lashinda Demus (USA, 52.47, #3 AT) and Melaine Walker (JAM, 54.43, #2 AT) battling for the top medals.. In Daegu it was Demus gold, Walker silver. In Berlin it was Walker gold, Demus silver. Prior to that Walker took gold in Beijing and Demus won a silver in Helsinki. When these women are in the race gold and/or silver seems to be a given.
Several women will be trying to derail them, the best on the clock being Kaliese Spencer (JAM, 52.79). Spencer ran her PR in London last year prior ot the World Championships. In Daegu, however, was far off form with a 54.01. In order to derail Demus & Walker she must run her best under the bright lights of the Games. The same goes for Zuzana Hejnova (CZE, 53.26) who PR’d last year in Paris then went 54.23 in Daegu. The one thing that Hejnova has going in her favor is that she has PR’d for ten straight years – and 2012 could be her time to run under 53 seconds. If she can do that in London it could put her on the podium. The most intriguing of those chasing the leaders is Natalya Antyukh (UKR, 52.92). The former flat quarter miler has an open best of 49.85 and ran under 53 over hurdles in 2010. She finished in the bronze position behind Demus & Walker in Daegu and has the speed to potentially get to the top of the podium. Of course in order to do that she may have to run near the WR since the top two women have both been within a sight of that mark.
That’s the hurdles for 2012. Four very exciting events that should provide a lot of action during the season. I’ll be taking a look at the distance events next. But first there are a few meets this Spring Break weekend, with the Texas Relays getting rolling tomorrow.
Tags: Anderson, Antyukh, Carruthers, Clement, Crawford, Demus, Dutch, Gordon, Greene, Harper, Hejnova, Jackson, Jones, Liu, Merritt, Oliver, Pearson, Richardson, Robles, Spencer, Taylor, Trammell, Van Zyl, Walker, Wells, Wilson