I had my first taste of national level competition back in May 2003. I was 17 years old, barely out of high school. I shaved off 1.44s off my personal best over the high hurdles, qualifying for the semis with a time of 17.55s. The 2003 Nationals was also the first time I encountered the Philippine national record holder for the sprint hurdles, Alonzo “Dudoy” Jardin.
More than 7 years since that day, my recollections are just vague flashbacks. But one instance stood out. At the dugout of the Rizal Memorial Stadium, I wished him the best of luck as he went head-to-head against Thailand’s Suphan Wongsriphuck, then Southeast Asia’s best sprint hurdler.
The Philippines is not known for its athletics tradition, much less the high hurdles. Aside from notable exceptions like Lydia de Vega-Mercado, Elma Muros-Posadas, Isidro del Prado and Marestella Torres, most of our athletes wilt under Asian-level competition. The Philippines’ last Olympic medals in athletics were won way back in the 1930′s (Miguel White in the 400m low hurdles and Simeon Toribio in the High Jump). Hence, it is not surprising that Dudoy’s 14.75s national record is light-years away from the Olympic “B” standard of 13.72s.
If I can choose one compatriot whom I look up to in the sprint hurdles, I can only name one – Alonzo Jardin. Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate Coach Nonoy Unso’s hurdling prowess, but since I haven’t seen any footage of his best years, I cannot make an honest assessment of the athletics legend. The same reasoning applies to my mentor, national decathlon record holder Fidel Gallenero. Although he taught me the fundamentals of hurdling form, I haven’t seen him race.
In order for me to look up to someone – as a hurdler to another hurdler, I have to base my standards on more than just times and reputation.
Dudoy was different. Even if he shifted to the decathlon in the twilight of his competitive years, I had much respect for his hurdling technique. As a sprint hurdler myself, I put more importance in one’s efficiency of clearance than to brute sprinting power. Yes, the 110m high hurdles is a sprint race. But in order to fully appreciate this wonderful event, one must look at it beyond sprinting alone.
Hence, for me, hurdling is an art form. Everytime I watch Liu Xiang, Allen Johnson and Colin Jackson race clips, my jaws drop in awe at the symphony of speed. As a student of the event, I take much aesthetic pleasure from watching these great technicians demonstrate their craft.
In the past 10 years I spent as a sprint hurdler, Dudoy is – without a doubt – the best exemplar of the Filipino hurdling artist.
I had the privilege of racing the Filipino champion twice in my career. The first time was during the 2006 National Open. It was the finals of the sprint hurdles, Dudoy was at the lane beside mine.
I wound up a far fourth place (15.65s – a new PB) behind Romel of TMS Ship (15.1), Joemary Padilla (15.1) and Orlando Soriano (15.5s). It turned out that Dudoy didn’t even finish clearing the 1st hurdle, to save his legs for the grueling decathlon.
Months later, we went at it again. This time, he emphatically stamped his class, edging out Padilla of Mapua. I placed a distant 3rd (15.6). Dudoy ran a 15.1, if I’m not mistaken.
Emer Obiena and Fidel Gallenero once told me about an Australian trainer’s awe at learning that Dudoy is only a a high 14 second sprint hurdler. With his hurdling proficiency, the Australian reasoned, Dudoy should be running in the 13 seconds. Perhaps it was his lack of flat out speed (he ran the 100m in around 11.3 to 11.4). An Olympic-level hurdler should be able to run the 100m in at least 10.5s.
The last time I saw Dudoy was in 2009. I was in the midst of my first, ill-fated comeback. He was training again after tearing the ligaments in his knee after a freak javelin training incident.
Alonzo Jardin’s 14.75s national record is bound to be broken one of these days. The younger Unso has the most potential to reclaim the national mark of his illustrious father. In a country where athletes from the less popular sports tend to get marginalized, Jardin will probably be forgotten by the generations of tomorrow.
Writing this piece is the least I can do for a fellow hurdler. Never mind the results; never mind the accolades.
Alonzo Jardin is one of the best, if not the best, hurdling technicians this country of ours had ever produced.