The women’s 100m hurdles (0.838m) features comparably shorter hurdles than its men’s equivalent, the 110m high hurdles (1.067m). Hence, a gifted sprinter could get away with glaring technical flaws in women’s event, according to Coach Steve McGill of Hurdles First fame. The short distance hurdle races are essentially a sprinting event. The lower hurdle heights of the women’s event puts less emphasis on technical profiency than being fleet-of-foot. Hence, it is unsurprising to see century dash Olympic champions like Gail Devers power their way to sprint hurdling dominance, albeit in an erratic fashion.
Australia’s Sally Pearson and Sweden’s Susanna Kallur are two of the most prolific hurdling technicians the modern athletics world has seen. Gifted with speed, these ladies have amassed a considerable amount of medals between themselves.
Pearson is the most illustrious of the two, stamping her class at the 2011 World Championships, becoming the fourth-fastest sprint hurdler of all time (12.28s). The older Kallur is the world record holder in the 60m hurdles (7.68s) and holds a personal best of 12.49s in the outdoor race.
With the Swede being hampered by injury since 2008, Pearson has improved dramatically. Whilst Kallur crashed out of the Beijing Olympics in tears, a jubilant Pearson won an unexpected silver medal.
Should a healthy Kallur clash with an in-form Pearson, whom amongst the two would prevail?
Hurdling Technique: An Even Match
One cannot find fault in their flawless hurdling techniques, unlike some of their top tier competitors. The way both Pearson and Kallur clear the hurdles is picture perfect, and a joy to watch for this hurdling aficionado.
As long as the athlete gets the fundamentals – leading with the knee, the lean, the lead leg snap, the squared trail knee, the swooshing lead arm, the stable trail arm, and the trail foot being parallel with the hurdle crossbar – the differences in technique boil down to the hurdling nuances.
Photos from couriermail.com.au and newsgab.com
Hurdling is an art form. No two works of art are the same.
Although I prefer Sanna’s more pronounced lean over the hurdles, this nuance – this slight improvement or advantage, I dare say, is practically trivial in light of Pearson’s results. After all, one doesn’t need to lean too much over the shorter hurdlers.
In terms of flat-out sprinting talent, Pearson has the upper hand. Sally started out as a sprinter first, before expanding her repertoire to the hurdles. At the World Youth Championships in 2003, the Aussie won gold in the 100m hurdles. A year later at the Grossetto World Junior Championships, Pearson landed third in the flat 100m while narrowly missing out on the 100m hurdle bronze.
Through the years, Sally has been a standout sprinting talent, winning numerous national titles in her native Australia. At the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Pearson would have won the 100m-100m hurdles double, had she not been disqualified in the century dash for a false start.
Kallur’s sprinting curriculum vitae aren’t as rock-solid. The Swedes best sprinting finish in a major international sprinting event is seventh place at the 60m dash final at the 2007 European Indoor Championships. Pearson, in contrast, is a 100m dash semifinalist at the Osaka World Championships, on top of her World Junior bronze medal.
Sally has a 100m dash personal best of 11.14s (2007) compared to Sanna’s 11.30s (2006). The gap is even bigger at the half-lap, with Pearson’s PR of 23.02s (2009 and 2012) superior to Kallur’s 23.32s (2006).
Speed/Hurdling Endurance: Pearson
Italy’s Marzia Caravelli, herself a talented hurdler and sprinter, pointed out that Kallur tends to fade at the latter parts of a race. At the 2007 World Championships, the future 60m hurdles world record holder had a terrific start to snatch the lead.
Susanna was actually leading until the ninth hurdle, when the troika of Michelle Perry (12.46s), Perdita Felicien (12.49s – SB), and Delloreen Ennis-London (12.50s – PB) caught up with the Swede. She missed the bronze by one-hundredths of second, but still clung to a then personal best of 12.51s.
Pearson is peerless at the latter stages. In her groundbreaking races at the Daegu World Championships, the Australian ran 12.53s and 12.36s at the heats and semifinals, respectively. She seemed to go faster as the race progressed. She had a lightning fast start and was able to maintain her lead. She had the race from the gun to the tape.
How Pearson maintains her speed and form over the barriers could be attributed to her extensive experience over the 200m dash. Since both the sprint hurdles and the half-lap involve rhythm, the two events complement each other. An examination of Kallur’s IAAF biography show much less race exposure in the 200m dash compared to Pearson.
With both athletes possessing impeccable hurdling technique, Pearson’s flat-out sprinting power, sprinting experience and speed/hurdling endurance makes her the superior hurdler – an obvious understatement considering the Australian’s achievements and stature.
But then again, one often wonders how an injury-free Susanna Kallur would match up with Sally Pearson. Kallur was at the cusp of Olympic success in 2008, as evidenced by her sterling world indoor record. Had she been healthy in 2008, would she have eventually ran at the same level as Pearson did in 2011?
At 32 years of age, Kallur is far from being a spent force. Should the Swede regain her top notch 2008 form, such a match up would be one for the books.
Sally Pearson’s IAAF bio
Susanna Kallur’s IAAF bio
Women’s 100m hurdles All-time Top List
Women’s 60m hurdles All-time Top List