Category Archives: Andy Turner

Brave Liu Xiang 刘翔

Four years ago in Beijing, Liu Xiang 刘翔 left the Bird’s Nest in pain, not even clearing the first hurdle of his qualifying heat. Four years later in London, Liu’s dreams of an Olympic comeback crumbled yet again.

Following his shock exit in 2008, Liu has been beset by recurring injury. He could not seem to find the old form that brought him an historic Olympic gold, a World Championship title, and a then-12.88s world record in the 110m Hurdles. The Chinese hurdler almost won another world title in Daegu last year, if not for an accidental clash with rival Dayron Robles.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The Sprint Hurdles”

In the run-up to the London Games, the 29-year old had drawn level with Robles’ 12.87s world record, albeit with slight wind assistance. Liu had gone beyond 13.00s twice, stamping his class on the world’s best sprint hurdlers. The stage was set for Liu’s great Olympic comeback in the British Isles. But fate, it seemed, had other plans.

Through the choppy images of my live streaming link, I saw the unfortunate events transpire frame by frame. When the starting gun fired, the rest of the field powered on to the finish line. At the left side of the screen, I saw a lone figure lying on the track clutching his right leg.

The commentators’ gasps of disappointment and regret confirmed my worst fears: Liu’s Olympic campaign had come to an abrupt end.

Read/View: “Hurdler Liu Xiang turns fall into heroism”

Liu headed out to an exit near the starting line, but a venue official apparently led him back to the race area. The 2004 Athens Olympic champion hobbled on the straightaway. Limping on his one good leg, Liu veered towards his original lane and gave the final hurdle a kiss. One of his competitors, the Hungarian hurdler Balazs Baji raised Liu’s arm, proclaiming to the entire stadium the latter’s symbolic victory.

In a touching display of camaraderie, hometown boy Andy Turner and the Spaniard Jackson Quinonez helped the ailing Liu to a waiting wheelchair.

The sprint hurdles is an unforgiving event. The event demands a certain degree of flat out speed to sprint nimbly in between the barriers, and a high level of technical proficiency to skim efficiently over the 1.067-meter high hurdles. The margin for error is small; a single mistake in clearing could spell a premature end to the race.

A Xinhua article revealed that Liu was suffering from an injury. “In Germany, Liu felt pain in the foot where his old injury was,” said Sun Haiping, Liu’s long-time coach.

Ever since Liu Xiang emphatically won the 2002 Asian Games gold, I’ve considered him a role model. Throughout my track career, I looked up to the guy. I can still remember that fateful night back in 2004, when the 21-year old Liu stormed to the finish line in first place, matching Colin Jackson’s world record. One of my cherished possessions is an autographed copy of his autobiography, which I brought to every single major race as a talisman.

Read: “Sidekicks”

My initial reaction, of course, was one of disappointment and disbelief. Seeing him claw his way back to the top, only to succumb once again to injury tore my heart out. But when I saw Liu bravely limping to finish the race – and the subsequent reaction of the spectators and his competitors – a poignant realization dawned on me.

He has won every, single major title: the World Indoors, the World Championships, and the Olympics. Perhaps, this Derek Redmond-like display of character was the defining moment of Liu’s career, should he decide to hang up his spikes there and then.

“For some athletes, it’s just a job,” said Liu in a pre-Athens Olympics interview with Time Magazine. “For me, it’s what I love.”

Liu Xiang shall be back. I just know it.

“For that to happen to one of the greatest hurdlers of all time is a tragedy” – Aries Merritt (quote from NYT)

“I just think he made a small little mistake and ran up on the hurdle a little too quickly and wasn’t prepared to take the hurdle at such a velocity.” – Aries Merritt (quote from Stuff.co.nz)

“I regard him as probably the best hurdler in history and have so much respect for him. It was horrible seeing him limp off like that so you have to go and help people.” – Andy Turner (quote from BBC)

“We know Liu Xiang has been suffering with his Achilles. He had to push hard and when you have to reach for the first barrier and you’ve got a stress injury like an Achilles it can cause you hell and he couldn’t even take off.” – Colin Jackson (quote from Stuff.co.nz)

“My heart goes to Liu Xiang.” – Allen Johnson (from Allen’s Twitter account)

Prefontaine Classic Preview: Clash of the Hurdling Titans

The 110m high hurdles in the 38th Prefontaine Classic has the makings of an epic race. Eugene, the United States’ Tracktown, is the fourth stop of the Samsung Diamond League.

Read: “Pre Classic Men’s 110-Meter Hurdles – Can It Get any Better Than This?”

For the first time since the controversial sprint hurdles final in Daegu last year, Liu Xiang 刘翔 will square off with world record holder Dayron Robles. Not to be outdone, a formidable array of American hurdling power is slated to defend home soil. At the forefront of the U.S. challenge is 2011 World Champion Jason Richardson, 2012 World Indoor Champion Aries Merritt and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist David Oliver.

Britain’s Andy Turner, the bronze medalist from Daegu, will also be in the thick of battle, as well as Liu’s understudy, Dongpeng Shi 史冬鹏 .

An interesting addition is Ashton Eaton, the heptathlon world record holder. Eaton, who attended the University of Oregon, will go head-to-head against the aforesaid sprint hurdling specialists onhis home track.

In terms of personal bests, Robles leads the pack with his current 12.87s world record. Liu (12.88s) and Oliver (12.94s) are the only one who had run below the 13-second barrier. Merritt (13.03s) and Richardson (13.04s) have almost identical lifetime bests. Shi had run an impressive 13.19s at the Osaka World Championships final, but have failed to replicate that form the past five years. Turner (13.22s) and Eaton (13.35s) round up the bottom two.

Liu, the 2012 world leader with 12.97s, is my pick to win the race (of course!), in light of his dominating performance at the recently concluded Shanghai Diamond League. I expect Robles (who is still recovering from an injury) to figure in a tight battle for second place with the in-form American sprint hurdling troika.

The talented Eaton could spring a surprise. If Shi and Turner perform below par, they could get beaten by a multi-eventer.

I know I’m getting ahead of myself when I say this, but the Eugene protagonists could possibly figure in the greatest sprint hurdling spectacle of all-time. We could see a new world record, should the conditions be conducive. The foursome of Liu, Oliver, Merrit and Richardson could all dip under 13-seconds. We might even see a rare dead heat! Regardless of the outcome, this race shall be one for the books.

Daegu 2011 110m High Hurdles Final: Controversial

Dayron Robles was well ahead of everyone when the gun fired.Towards the latter parts of the race, Liu Xiang 刘翔 caught up, with Jason Richardson trailing closely behind. As the fast-finishing Liu cleared the penultimate hurdle, Robles’ lead arm (right) accidentally swiped Liu’s trail arm (left). The Chinese gets off-balanced because of the contact, causing him to lose his rhythm in between the barriers (a crucial mistake since Liu was gaining!). Then it happened again over the tenth hurdler.

Click here to view the results

The Cuban (13.14s) padded his lead over Liu (13.27s) as Richardson (13.16s) overtook the Chinese for silver. As Liu sprinted the last 14.02m to the finish line, he was glaring at Robles. The contact visibly irked the 2004 Athens Olympic Gold medalist.

Having been a keen observer of Liu Xiang’s technique since 2002, I’ve noticed that he tends hug at the left-most section of his lane (never veering off the designated lane of course). Never since 2002 have I seen Liu hit another hurdler because of the aforesaid preference. As Liu closed the gap between him and Robles, some contact was bound to occur in an event like this. (since a sprint hurdler’s lead arm swings widely, as the lead leg snaps down). Contact between sprint hurdlers is common.

Initially, I was defending Robles, saying that the contact was accidental. Come to think of it, would a sprint hurdler hurtling at full speed over 1.067m high barriers even bother to grab a competitor’s arm? The high hurdles entail an uncanny level of concentration. Such a deplorable action would surely break one’s rhythm. This merited a closer examination of the slo-mo clips.

Liu and Robles were almost abreast when they cleared the eighth hurdle (which Robles clipped. Take note in the photo below that Robles right arm swings normally.

With Liu breathing down Robles’ neck, the Cuban’s lead arm swung a little higher, hitting Liu’s arm in the process. Was this deliberate? I don’t think so (Liu and Oliver also opine that the contact was unintentional. See the quotes below). Perhaps the pressure of a head-to-head duel somehow tensed up Robles (he did clip the seventh hurdle). Like I said, grabbing someone’s arm was probably the last thing on Robles’ mind at this point.

Both athletes lost their balance, as a result. The sideways movement was more apparent in Liu. With Robles veering into the right side of his lane, a more forceful contact was made between Robles’ widely swinging right arm and Liu’s trail arm, impeding the latter.

China then filed a protest, with Robles getting disqualified to obstruction. Cuba reacted with its own counter-protest, but this apparently was also thumbed down by the officials. With this development, Richardson and Liu were elevated to gold and silver, respectively. Briton Andy Turner (13.44s) climbed to bronze.

In my opinion, it wasn’t so much because of the clash of arms that got Robles disqualified. hell, hurdlers do this all the time (especially the ones with the flailing arms). The fact that his arms veered into Liu’s lane as it made contact was the most probable cause.

I’d rather wait for these emotions to die down – and for the official reports to get published. Although I’m a hardcore Liu Xiang fan, a disqualification is a harsh move, in light of the nature of the discipline. I’d love to hear the official statements of both Liu and Robles to put some light into the controversy.

As an athlete myself, I’d hate to win by a technicality. I’d rather win on the merits of my running, not because of a rule book.

I’ve watched the clips countless of times the past hour. Robles’ actions after the race imply that the contact was unintentional. As Robles crossed the finish line, he put his hand to his forehead in an apparent act of frustration or regret. He slowed down abruptly (instead of running all the way to the curve as victors of the 110m usually do) to hug Liu, in an apparent gesture of apology.

David Oliver: “People who think Robles did it on purpose are crazy and haven’t seen his races, late in races he’s been getting wide with his arms. Hitting that 8th hurdle just made it worse and why would you do something intentionally that us going to mess you up as well.”

Andy Turner: “‘I want to cry, but I don’t want to cry – I didn’t want to win a medal by default, but I have won a World Championship bronze medal and I’m over the moon with that.”

Liu Xiang: “Robles hit me twice, at the ninth hurdle he pulled at me but I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. I lost my balance when I came to the 10th hurdle because of the bump. If not for the incident, I would have been the gold medallist.”

Jason Richardson: “Whatever reward I get from doing my best, I will accept. If it’s gold, silver or bronze, it doesn’t matter.”

Daegu 2011 110m High Hurdles Heats Recap

There were hardly any surprises after the 110m high hurdles heats. The defending champion from Barbados, Ryan Brathwaite, took an early ignominious exit (13.57s). But then again, his 2011 has been less than inspiring.

The trio of Liu Xiang 刘翔 (13.20s), Dayron Robles (13.42s) and David Oliver (13.27s) made it through, but it was Jason Richardson who topped all qualifiers with his 13.19s time. I’d have to say that both Liu and Robles look in-form, as they practically jogged through the heats. Oliver, in contrast, was a tad tense (well, he always hurdles that way).

The semis are scheduled at 7:00 PM Daegu time, with the finals being held at 9:25 PM.

My fearless forecast still sticks: Liu Xiang for gold and Dayron Robles for silver. Expect Richardson and Oliver to figure in a tight battle for bronze. Casting aside (momentarily) my obvious bias for my idol Liu Xiang, picking a someone amongst the stellar cast is a difficult task.

Read more of this post

2011 SPAR European Team Championships Day 2 Wrap-up: Russia Stamps Class

Thanks to Eurosport, I missed a good one-half of the final day events. But then again, watching an athletics meet on the boob tube (live at that!) is a rarity in the Philippines.

The conditions were a lot harsher than the bright, sunny first day. Winds were blowing as strong as 3.0m/s. The Men’s Pole Vault was even moved to an indoor venue, away from the rain-soaked Olympic Stadium in Stockholm. From the live updates of the EAA site, as well as informative on-the-go Twitter updates, I stayed updated with my favorite events.

Read the Day 1 wrap-up here

Andy Turner makes it a hurdling double for the British, as he took victory in the sprint hurdles in 13.42s. Despite running into a 2.4 m/s headwind, the European champion won by a massive margin over France’s Garfield Darien (13.62s).

The Czech Republic’s Petr Svoboda, who had a fine indoor season, did not take part.

Russia’s Tatyana Dektyareva Татьяна Валерьевна Дектярева took the 100m hurdles over an in-form Alina Talai Алина Талай of Belarus, finalist at the 2011 Paris European indoor championships. The Russian stopped the clock at 13.16s to Talai’s 13.19s. Dektyareva and Talai ran in different heats. The Belorussian took the scalp of American-born British record holder Tiffany Ofili-Porter (13.28s) in the “A” race.

An in-form Carolina Klüft won second place behind the magnificent Darya Klishina Дарья Клишина at the long jump, as the former registered the best jump of her career since 2008, according to an EAA report.

Note: There are clips of Kluft’s and Klishina’s final jumps at the 100mH video above.

Read “Darya beats Klüft at the SPAR Euro Team Champs Long Jump.”

Christophe Lemaitre ran a classy 20.28s despite running into a 2.8 m/s head wind, giving France the full complement of twenty-four points as double sprinting champion.

Germany’s reigning world champion, Robert Harting, took the men’s Discus (65.63m). On the distaff side, Ukraine’s Kateryna Karsak (63.35m) took gold over Russia’s Darya Pishchalnikova Дарья Витальевна Пищальникова (61.09m)

For a more in-depth look at Day 2, read the EAA article here

Emma Green-Tregaro, fresh from beating the great Blanka Vlasic in New York a week earlier, clung on to a narrow 1.89m first place victory in the high jump. Green-Tregaro, struggling in the terrible conditions like the rest of the athletes, failed to clear 1.93m. Ruth Beitia and Irina Gordeyeva Ирина Гордеева finished second and third, respectively, with identical marks of 1.89m, but lost on countback to the in-form Swede.

Ukraine’s Maksym Mazuryk Максим Мазурик took the men’s pole vault, clearing a season’s best of 5.72m to edge out Germany’s Malte Mohr (5.72m) who lost narrowly lost on countback. France’s Renaud Lavillenie, the European indoor champion, languished at a dismal fifth place (5.50m) after missing all three attempt at the winning height.

Russia took both relays, solidifying its grasp on the overall championship. There was some controversy in the women’s 4x100m relay, with the British team getting initially disqualified then reinstated. In the men’s races, the British 4x400m squandered a potential podium finish after a bungled final baton exchange.

Russia scored a massive 385 points over Germany’s 331.5 points. Britain fell to fourth place (289) after the relay fiasco, finishing behind the inspired performance of Ukraine (304).

The victorious Russian team celebrates (Photo from EAA)

In general, the quality of the competition was quite high, as several world-leading marks and championship records were set. Despite the relatively low turnout of spectators, the team spirit was electric. Groups of athletes wearing the same colors were seen bunching together whilst watching the festivities. There was one particularly touching scene where Barbora Špotáková, fresh from competing at the javelin, gave a high five to compatriot Zuzana Hejnová, who had crossed the finish line after winning the 400m low hurdles. The Team Championships is a rare take on mostly individually oriented sport.

The next SPAR European Team Championships will be held in Britain in 2013, as Helsinki holds the European Outdoor Championships next year.

Additional link:

Complete results

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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