Clarke’s Hybrid Hurdling Technique

I was watching the clips of the 2011 Aviva Indoor Grand Prix a few weeks back. The 60m hurdles saw a couple of English guys go against a formidable American steamroller of a team. Aries Merritt, World Junior Champion back in 2004, won at a comfortable 7.49s. Britain’s Andy Turner, the 2010 Commonwealth and European Champion, finished a distant 3rd with 7.61s. At the tail-end of the classy field was the young Lawrence Clarke, oft-compared to Lord Burghley because of his aristocratic roots, stopped the clock at 7.69, a new personal best.

When I watched the slo-mo replay of the race, something about Clarke’s trail arm caught my eye. Instead of swinging backwards throughout the lead leg action, he kept his arm forward together with his lead arm. It reminded me of the legendary Rodney Milburn, the most prominent double-armed sprint hurdler.

The double-arm shift is a bygone hurdling style. It has gone the same way as the old high jump straddle technique, into the annals of athletics history. All hurdlers today virtually adhere to the single-armed style. According to an article by Coach Steve McGill, the double-arm shift enables the hurdler to clear barriers faster by shifting the weight of both arms forward.

Clarke’s trail arm does not extend all the way to the front as Milburn’s. During hurdling clearance, Clarke keeps his right arm slightly bent, relative to the lead arm. In a sense, it is a hybrid of both techniques. True enough, Clarke skims over the barriers with little wasted motion. Since it is not a full double arm shift, Clarke doesn’t tend to veer to his right side (he leads with his right), unlike Milburn.

The 20-year old is Britain’s emerging generation of new athletics talents. Clarke was the 2009 European Junior Champion. In the Delhi Commonwealth Games last year, the Bristol University student finished 3rd (13.70s), contributing to England’s unprecedented 1-2-3 finish in the sprint hurdles. Clarke stopped the clock one-hundredths short of his personal best.

I’ve had problems with the trail arm ever since. Instead of keeping it bent backwards during clearance, my left arm jerks up (sometimes as high as my head!), before going back to hip height and swinging up again as the lead leg snaps to ground. For years, I’ve tried my utmost best to correct this flaw. It was all for naught. Hence, I was spending extra time in the air.

Clarke’s technique is an eye-opener. Since an outright shift to Milburn’s double-arm style is much too drastic, I’m seriously considering the next best alternative.

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