I was about to sleep at the wee hours of Sunday morning, when I read tweets from the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham. I read about 2004 Athens Olympic champion Felix Sanchez winning a 400m hurdles race – INDOORS! Other tweets mentioned something about the athletes being allowed to cut to the first lane after lap one. This, naturally, piqued my interest.
A Google search led me to several informative articles. It turned out that such a race originated in France. The innovative 400m indoor races are held in various races in continental Europe. The Birmingham meet was the first time such a race was held in British soil.
To date, the event hasn’t been added to the major indoor meets. I can understand the reticence. The cardinal rule for hurdling is to stay in your own lane. Although one tends to hit an opponent with one’s arms in the high’s, or in more drastic situations veer into another’s designated lane, lane invasion is a major no-no.
For a more detailed description of the event, click this link
I found a one-year clip of a race in France featuring Sanchez. El Superman, as former world champion and Olympic champion, is the biggest name who has competed in the indoor intermediates. It was an exciting race to say the least! Hurdlers chasing down other hurdlers without segregated lanes is a refreshing sight for spectators – a scary spectacle for sprint hurdlers like myself!
In an interview prior to last night’s Aviva Grand Prix, the Superman said: “You get the hurdles, now you get to deal with other athletes in your lane. It’s exciting but we’re professionals, don’t try this at home.”
Here’s a rundown of the event setup and some basic rules. Four hurdles are set on the 200m indoor track. There are hurdles at the start and end of each straightaway, with a distance of 30m separating each barrier. The hurdles, if I’m not mistaken, are set at intermediate height (of course, I’m not mistaken! Clearing 0.99m high barriers for 400m is.. is.. beyond belief!). According to a tweet by Sanchez himself, cutting to the inner lane “depends on the track… but the break is the same as in the 400 indoors, just after the 2nd bend.”
In the outdoor 400m hurdle race, hurdlers typically follow a 15 step pattern in between barriers (13 for the elite, 17 for non-elite). Since fatigue is a major factor, most intermediate hurdlers shift lead legs in the course of the race; hence, taking 14 or 16 steps in some phases. In the indoor race, it takes 10-11 steps in between the barriers. After which, the athlete runs immediately on the curve, which takes about 25-26 steps.
The finish line greets the hurdler shortly after the 8th and final barrier.
The fundamental tenets of hurdling remain – athletes cannot touch or go under the hurdle. But since the second lap entails an inner lane free-for-all, hurdlers observe some basic ground rules. For instance, when two athletes are running head-to-head (with but half a step separating both), the leader clears the barrier on lane 1, whilst the trailing athlete clears the hurdle in lane 2 and so on.
The Birmingham Race: Sanchez Prevails
Wacthing the clip of the landmark Aviva race, I couldn’t help but gasp at the pure excitement of it all. Sanchez sped to the lead early on, easily making up for the stagger. The 2003 Paris World Champion overtook Britain’s Richard Yates by the 120m mark. The exuberant Yates, matched Sanchez stride-per-stride. Yates swerved to the inner lane the earliest, grabbing the lead in the process.
Read the IAAF article here
Read the Athletics Weekly post here
In the final 100m, Yates, Sanchez and Reuben McCoy were engaged in a mad dash to the tape. Sanchez ran like a man possessed, as if it was an Olympic final, not wanting to yield to Yates. The US-born Dominican hit the last two hurdles and literally stumbled to the finish line.
Being the true showman that he is, Sanchez bowed to audience as soon as he recovered his bearing.
The Athens Olympic champion stopped the clock in 49.76s (three hundredths of a second off Sanchez’ world best). McCoy was second in 49.78s whilst Yates clung on for a 50.21s UK record.