Who’s the better sprint hurdler, Liu Xiang or Colin Jackson?
I’ll be attempting to answer this question by comparing the two hurdling greats in terms of major championship performances, times, technique and more. Unlike my previous Susanna Kallur vs. Lolo Jones and Liu Xiang vs. Dayron Robles posts, determining the victor of this track & field dream match is difficult beyond comprehension.
Major Championship Performances
Without a doubt, the Olympics is the most prestigious athletics competition there is. In my opinion, an Olympic gold trumps a World Championship gold, much less top plums from regional games like the European Championships and the Asian Games. If we go by the list of accolades alone, Liu’s Olympic gold medal definitely has more weight than Jackson’s Olympic silver. Both athletes won their respective medals in similar fashion. As a 21-year old, Liu tied Jackson’s world record in devastating fashion. A 22-year old Jackson, finished behind Roger Kingdom at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – the former’s only Olympic medal. The Welshman could have achieved more in the modern Olympic Games, had it not been for an unfortunate spate of injuries. Liu is facing a similar predicament, in light of his shocking withdrawal during the 2008 Games.
Colin Jackson’s 1988 Seoul Olympic Silver
Since winning his first major championship title at the 1986 Commonwealth Games to his retirement after the 2003 World Indoor Championships, Jackson’s long career is a testament to his durability. In a physically taxing event like the 110m high hurdles, elite athletes who manage to compete well into their 30′s are but a handful. Hence, it is not surprising that Jackson had collected a myriad of titles from all major competitions. Throughout his career, the Briton had won two Commonwealth Games titles, three European Indoor golds, one World Indoor Championship gold and three World Championship titles. According to Wikipedia, Jackson went undefeated from 1993 to 1995 (44 races all-in-all). Perhaps the most impressive of all his streaks is his 12-year reign as the European Champion (then held as a quadrennial event). Colin’s 60m hurdles indoor record of 7.30s (Sindelfingen, 1994) still stands up to now.
Colin Jackson’s 12-year reign as European Champion
Liu was en route in matching Jacskon’s dominance, if not for a tragic Achilles injury which slowed him down. Since his withdrawal from the 2008 Olympics, Liu has been but a shadow of his old self, finishing far from the medals at the 2010 Doha World Indoor Championships. Nevertheless, the former world record holder’s curriculum vitae remains impressive. In 2002, Liu broke the legendary Renaldo Nehemiah’s World Junior Record, stopping the clock at 13.12s in Lausanne. A year later, he barged into the top three of the Paris World Championships. By 2008, Liu Xiang is the world record holder and the reigning Asian, World Indoor, World and Olympic Champion.
Read: Liu Xiang and the Asian Games
Read: Liu Xiang’s Comeback
Liu Xiang’s 2004 Athens Olympic Gold
In the IAAF’s all-time top list for the 110m high hurdles, the ageless Jackson’s had 27 performances to Liu’s 16. Both athletes have had five Sub-13 clockings each. In this category, however, Liu is the better hurdler pound-per-pound, in light of the shorter span of time it took him to achieve the aforesaid hurdling milestone. Both are former world record holders. However, Jackson had more success competing indoors than Liu. Liu’s 60m hurdles PB of 7.42s is a far cry from Jackson’s world record. This is unsurprising considering Liu’s penchant for come-from-behind victories. Liu almost always isn’t the fastest starter in the field – but he does get the job done come the finish line. In a sense, Colin Jackson’s faster indoor time is a testament to his better flat-out speed.
Colin Jackson’s 12.91s world record (Stuttgart, 1993)
Liu Xiang’s 12.88s world record (Lausanne, 2006)
But then again, the two athletes lived in two vastly different eras. Each athlete have different circumstances, that a mere objective look into best times doesn’t merit a judicious verdict!
Being one of the fastest sprint hurdlers of all-time quite necessarily merits an efficient hurdling technique. Liu and Jackson are the epitome of the ideal sprint hurdler. Looking closely at clips of their races, one is hard-pressed to find any flaws at all. Both observe a short-long-short stride pattern. They both time their leans perfectly before each hurdle clearance. Liu and Jackson both lead with their respective knees. Their lead leg action isn’t too high or excessive, as their lead legs skim at just about the right height above the 1.067m high barriers. Both Liu and Jackson square their lead legs in the proper angle, with the trail foot parallel with the hurdle crossbar. Moreover, none of the exhibit flailing lead arms or trail arms.
Furthermore, the respective flat out speed of both athletes aren’t too fast for the sprint hurdles (Liu probably runs the 100m dash in 10.3. Jackson’s PB is 10.29s). As Nehemiah puts it, a 10-flat sprinter has a relatively harder time negotiating the three-stride rhythm in between. A fast sprinter’s speed becomes an unwitting curse in the sprint hurdles, as one tends to crowd out in between the barriers, requiring flawless hurdling technique.
Indeed, Colin Jackson and Liu Xiang embody the perfect sprint hurdler!
Jackson takes it further
I grew up watching Liu Xiang; hence, it is unavoidable to become biased to my idol! In the past week, however, I’ve been watching quite a lot of Colin Jackson’s old hurdle races. I was awestruck at how fast Jackson cleared hurdles. Comparing Jackson to Liu, Jackson’s snap of the lead leg was a tad quicker.
There and then, I remembered one particular training journal I borrowed from Coach Ed Sediego. The article (written by the great Renaldo Nehemiah himself!) discussed the finer points of hurdling technique. Jackson lead foot exhibits a picture perfect bowed lead foot – where the foot is rotated 45 degrees outward. This specific action prevents the lead leg from going too high above the hurdle; hence, contributing to less time on the air. Also, Jackson’s head action is more refined than Liu’s. Jackson tucks his chin a little lower and angles his head to side whilst clearing hurdles, giving Jackson’s center of gravity a more stable path of travel.
Photos from thelondonseason.com and davidoliverhurdles.blogspot.com
I’m not saying that Liu Xiang’s technique is flawed. It is perfect. It’s just that Colin Jackson takes the concept of hurdling technique further by mastering these finer points.
Liu Xiang can pack quite a mean karaoke tune. Like Manny Pacquiao, singing is one of Liu’s talents!
Liu even recorded an actual music video with Se7en:
Not to be outdone, Colin Jackson had performed with distinction in the show Strictly Come Dancing:
I’m a Liu Xiang fan to the core, but the competitive nature of Jacskon’s show weighs a little heavier on my book than appearing in a music video. And in light of the aforesaid categories, Jackson holds the upper hand. Sorry Liu, I’d have to give this one to Colin!
I’ll write another Liu Xiang vs. Colin Jackson when the former retires from the sport. I believe that Liu has so much more left in his gas tank. Three cheers to your full recovery Liu Xiang! You’ll get ‘em in London.
Colin Jackson wiki
Liu Xiang wiki