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Liu Xiang (刘翔) vs. Dayron Robles
May 27, 2010Posted by on
I was talking to a friend last weekend, arguing about who’s better: Liu Xiang or Dayron Robles? The hurdles is a “black man’s sport,” he pointed. Is it really?
Race is not a factor
First of all, let me debunk the theory that athletes of West African descent are more genetically-endowed to excel in the sprints. The sprints is an explosive event, involving the utilization of fast-twitch muscle fibers. If we subscribe to the aforesaid thought, then weightlifting (another sport which requires explosive movements) should be dominated by athletes of West African descent – it is not.
Genetics indeed play a significant part in athletic ability, but race alone does not determine genetics. Instead, it’s a confluence of factors such as the environment one grows in or the athletic ability of one’s forebears.
The former world record holder in the 110m High Hurdles, Colin Jackson (incidentally, part African, European and Native American) cites the sports background of his parents as major influences to his athletic prowess. Jackson’s 12.91s world record (set in Stuttgart, 1993) was equaled by Liu Xiang in the 2004 Athens Olympics and bettered by the prodigious Chinese speedster in 2006 (12.88s).
Nevertheless, the fastest times in the century dash were run by athletes of West African descent, from the traditional sprinting hotbeds of the United States, Jamaica and Nigeria.
Too much speed
Would a Sub-10 second sprinter edge out a mid-10 second sprinter in the hurdles, with factors such as hurdling technique being equal? I don’t think so. Following Renaldo Nehemiah’s train of thought, “too much speed” is detrimental to the sprint hurdler.
The distance in between hurdles is set at 9.14m. Running faster almost always means elongated strides. Doing so produces a “crowding” effect, causing the fast athlete to hit the hurdles; hence, it is important to follow a short-long-short stride pattern in between. Sprint hurdlers taller than 6’3 are also susceptible to crowding.
Liu Xiang (100m PB of around 10.3) is the perfect hurdling specimen. He is not too fast like Terrence Trammell (who has a tendency to smash hurdlers, like most American hurdlers do) or too tall like the spindly Florian Schwarthoff. Liu’s technique is flawless. No movement is wasted. The same can be said of Allen Johnson (10.41s PB) and Colin Jackson as well – and yes, the world record holder, Dayron Robles.
The hurdles is an art-form. True technicians gifted with decent speed could easily overturn the brutish, less graceful sprint hurdlers.
Clincher: The Trail Leg!
Now, if a healthy Liu Xiang and an in-form Dayron Robles square off, who would win? It will be a close fight with both athletes being superb hurdling artists. Bias aside, I’d still pick Liu Xiang to win over Dayron due to experience and to one small minute detail – the trail leg.
Liu squares his trail leg better than Robles, who usually brings his trail foot a little closer to the height of the squaring knee than Liu. Robles’ trail foot isn’t parallel to the top bar, increasing the possibility of hitting the hurdle. But then again, who am I to cite hurdling technique?
Liu Xiang’s Perfect Trail Leg Action
Dayron Robles’ Not-so-perfect Trail Foot!
In that case, I’m still picking Liu Xiang based on sheer fanaticism alone!