Category Archives: Rodney Milburn

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.


The Double Arm Shift

The double-arm shift is a forgotten hurdling technique. Instead of extending one’s lead arm as the trail arm hangs back during hurdle clearance, the double-arm shift involves pushing both arms forward!

Photo from Steve McGill of Hurdles First

Coach Steve McGill of Hurdles First fame has written much literature on the premiere exemplar of the double-arm shift, the 1972 Munich Olympic Champion Rodney Milburn.

To learn more of Rodney Milburn and this classic hurdling style, read McGill’s Rodney Milburn: “The Double Armed Man” feature.

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Note:  Since the last two entries were about football, I just have to write an honest-to-goodness athletics digest. After all, this is a track blog!

Guy Drut: The Stylish Hurdler

I’ve always loved reading about vintage track & field. Back in college, I drooled at the wealth of track knowledge contained in “A World History of Track & Field Athletics 1864-1964.” I was particularly amazed at how the athletics pioneers ran spectacular times despite a cinder track and spartan training methods.

Before the advent of hurdles with plastic top-bars, the barriers were once actual sheep hurdles (back in the 1800’s in Britain), shaped like an inverted “T” (harder to fall than today’s “L” shaped hurdles) or robustly built (with wooden top bars).

Photo from

Take a look at the following documentary about Guy Drut, who won the 110m high hurdles silver in the 1976 Montreal Games, behind the double-armed Rodney Milburn. Although the 70’s were a far cry from the cinder-track days of Paddock and Owens, the video still retains that nostalgic aura.

I like Drut’s style of hurdling. It’s efficient and a joy to watch. Not a single movement is wasted or exaggerated. Drut has a stable center of gravity all throughout the hurdling motion. Even though it lacks the sheer power of Liu Xiang and Allen Johnson (Drut is just a low 13 second hurdler), Drut’s graceful movements epitomize hurdling as an art form. Although the former world record holder could perhaps lean forward a bit more, Drut’s trail leg action snaps with so much vigor. If I were to choose one aspect of Drut’s hurdling that truly stands out, it is the snap of the trail leg.

Hurdlers of all levels can learn important pointers from the way Drut executes the various hurdle drills. Since the main point of drills is to isolate and perfect certain aspects of hurdling technique, Drut maintains an erect body throughout, enabling his legs to do most of the work. For instance, in the quick step hurdling drill variation (3:44), Drut shuns the aggressive forward lean of actual full-race hurdling technique in favor of a straight back. As a result, his hips and legs are isolated, enabling one’s muscle memory to retain the correct movements efficiently.

What I like most about the documentary (aside from the retro outfits!) are the voice-overs.

“Establish contact with the hurdles. True they are obstacles. But above all, they are indispensable instruments to the forthcoming 13-second [I didn’t quite catch the this term]. Tune-up with the hurdle. Harmonize with them.”

I’m not sure if the lines actually come from Drut himself, but if that’s the case, then it isn’t surprising considering the suppleness and ease of Drut’s form. Even though I don’t always exhibit the aforesaid approach to hurdling, we share the same fundamental hurdling principles – of relaxed, deeply-wrought intensity.

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