Tag Archives: 400m hurdles

Track Beauty of the Week: Élodie Ouédraogo

Élodie Ouédraogo is this week’s Track Beauty!

Ouédraogo is a Belgian athlete who competes in both the sprints and the intermediate hurdles. The high point in her career came at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she won the 4x100m silver together with Belgian sprinting great Kim Gevaert, Olivia Borleé, and Hanna Marien. The quartet stopped the clock at a new Belgian record of 42.54s. Élodie was also part of the Belgian squad tha won bronze at the Osaka World Championships.

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Track Beauty of the Week: Zuzana Hejnová

Zuzana Hejnová is this week’s Track Beauty!

The Czech 400m hurdles specialist has made significant impact in her event the past two years. Coming into the 2011 season, Zuzana had a personal best of 54.13s and a fourth-place finish at the 2010 Barcelona European Championships to her credit. Towards the end of the year, the Czech had lowered her personal record by almost 1 second to 53.29s. More importantly, she gained valuable experience as she crossed the line in a competitive 7th place at the Daegu World Championships.

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The Legend of Felix Sánchez

When I was writing my London 2012 event previews, I had a strong gut feeling that Felix Sanchez would do something monumental. His career has undergone a renaissance the past few months, as he placed fourth in the Daegu World Championships final. Despite having a season’s best of just 48.56s coming into the Games, Sanchez had taken the scalp of 2011 World Champion Dai Greene in Rabat back in April.

In the initial version of my 400m Hurdles preview, Sanchez and Angelo Taylor were my choices for gold and silver! After all, it was anybody’s ballgame considering the fact that the tantalizingly fast times have not really come the past few years. I changed my forecasts at the last minute. Even if I knew deep down that they had an outside chance against the two favorites, Javier Culson and Greene, I had to consider what the statistics say.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 400m Hurdles”

And Sanchez did shock the world.

He breezed through the heats and sent out a strong message in the semifinals, stopping the clock at 47.76s – his fastest time since winning Olympic gold in Athens. All of a sudden, the grand old man of intermediate hurdling has regained the spring in his legs. People started to notice that the two-time World Champion could achieve what months ago would be deemed improbable.

Sanchez still had to contend with the world leader Culson, the hometown boy Greene, and Angelo Taylor – the Olympic champion from Sydney and Beijing.

As the 400m hurdles finalists walked into the stadium, that steely Sanchez determination was noticeable underneath his dark shades and his jacket’s hood. The person who had so valiantly attempted to defend his World title in 2005 despite an injury, who four years ago crashed out of the heats in Beijing, was back in contention.

Coming into the final bend, the Puerto Rican felled a hurdle, losing momentum. Sanchez kept on going strong towards the finish, ahead of everyone else in this quality field. The Dominican stopped the clock at 47.63s, the same time he had registered when he won in Athens eight years ago. The American champion Michael Tinsley (47.91s) ran the final meters like a monster, snatching silver ahead of Culson (48.10s) and the fast-finishing Greene (48.24s). Taylor (48.25s) finished in fifth place.

It was a touching sight, seeing Felix Sanchez take out the photo of his deceased grandmother which he kept inside his race bib. He fell to the track on his knees and kissed the photo of his late grandma, to whom he promised another Olympic gold.

Read: “Tears for the Second Coming of Sanchez”

Culson, the nearly-man, assumed the same position as Sanchez, this time in unpleasant disbelief. He had been undefeated this season after numerous close calls in winning the gold. A major championship title has remained elusive. Dai Greene sat on the track, shell-shocked at the enormity of the moment.

Sanchez cried tears of joy as the Dominican Republic’s national anthem played in the medal ceremony. It was a genuine display of emotion from someone who had been written off as over-the-hill.

When I was starting out in the sport back in 2003, I looked up to Liu Xiang and Felix Sanchez as my hurdling heroes. Liu had just won a groundbreaking bronze at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, while Sanchez had added a second World title to the one he won in Edmonton. My respect grew a hundred-fold when Felix valiantly attempted to defend his World title in Helsinki, despite a painful injury.

Culson and Greene are still young compared to the 35-year old Sanchez. They will have their time under the sun.

For now, the moment belongs to Felix Sanchez.

Additional Links:

Results – 400m Hurdles Final

Results – 400m Hurdles Semis/Heats

Felix Sanchez’ IAAF Profile

IAAF article on Felix’s victory

Christine Sonali Merrill’s Balancing Act and Olympic Hopes

Christine Sonali Merrill deserves a shoutout.

Christine Merrill. (Photo from Djh57/Wikimedia Commons

The American-born Sri Lankan hurdler will compete in the London Olympics as a wild card, having missed the Olympic “B” standard by almost two-hundredths of a second. She has a personal best of 56.83s, set during the preliminary rounds of the Asian Athletics Championships last year in Kobe. Merrill eventually wound up in 3rd place, thanks to a strong finish.

A mechanical engineering graduate of University of California (San Diego), Merrill juggles a demanding day job with serious athletics training. In this day and age of sporting professionals, this is a rarity.

Read: “10-for-10 – Marzia Caravelli’s Balancing Act”

I am familiar with such a routine. It is not a walk in the park.

Even if the Merrill’s Olympic medal hopes in London seem distant, she gives hope to those athletes who strive to balance a day job with their sporting pursuits. And according to her coach, Merrill could make an impact at the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympic Games.

Additional Link:

Christine’s Facebook Page

Sources:

IAAF

UCSD Tritons article on Merrill

Track Beauty of the Week: Irina Davydova Ирина Давыдова

Irina Davydova Ирина Давыдова is this week’s Track Beauty!

Coming into 2012, Daydova had a relatively humble personal best of 55.48s in the 400m hurdles. Davydova made heads turn when she made her outdoor debut in Sochi last May. The Russian clocked 53.87s for her first ever foray under 54-seconds, shedding 1.61 seconds off her erstwhile lifetime best. In fact, she had yet to go under 55 seconds prior to this year! Her performance in Sochi propelled the 24-year old to the top of the 2012 world rankings.

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London Olympics Preview: The 400m Hurdles

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

The 400m hurdles is one of the most grueling track & field events. The [wo]man-killer event tests the limits of one’s speed endurance. Intermediate hurdlers are known for digging deep.

Women’s 400m Hurdles

A couple of Russian women are perched on top of the 2012 rankings. The 2011 World Championships silver medalist, Natalya Antyukh Наталь Антюх, ran a world-leading time of 53.40s at the Russian Championships in Chekosbary in early July. Her younger compatriot, the newly minted European Champion Irina Davydova, is second with 53.77s.

 

Demus (L) and Walker (R). (Photos from André Zehetbauer and Erik van Leeuwen)

The reigning World Champion, Lashinda Demus (53.98s), trails Davydova in the 2012 tally. Vania Stambolova Ваня Стамболова (54.04s), Denisa Rosolová (54.24s), Georgeanne Moline (54.33s), and Hanna Yaroshchuk Ганна Ярощук (54.35s) round up the next four. The defending champion from Beijing, Melaine Walker, has a season’s best of just 54.62s – a far cry from her personal best of 52.42s personal best from the 2009 World Championships.

On paper, the Russian duo hold the edge over the rest of the field. However, the list of protoganists in the 400m hurdles is a classy bunch, with three sub-53 second athletes. Jamaica’s Walker (52.42s) is the second fastest of all-time. Demus (52.47s), the American record holder, is third thanks to her gutsy run at the Daegu World Championships. Antyukh, a multiple World and Olympic medalist, has a lifetime’s best of 52.92s from the 2010 Barcelona European Championships.

 

Antyukh (L) and Davydova (R). (Photos from Chell Hill and Erik van Leeuwen)

Depending on the conditions, perhaps a mid-52 second clocking is needed to secure Olympic gold in London.

It could go both ways, between Demus and Walker. As reigning World and Olympic Champions, respectively, these two are the obvious favorites. Demus  might just have the psychological momentum, due to the recency of her feat.

The battle for third will be fought primarily between Antyukh and Davydova, with the quartet of Stambolova, Rosolova, Moline, and Yaroshchuk lurking to play spoil sport.

The dark horse could be Rosolova. She specialized in the 400m dash for a couple of years prior to her shift to the intermediate hurdlers. She won the 2011 European Indoor title and has an outdoor personal best of 50.84s. Rosolova is the greenest among the lineup, however, with only six or seven outings in the 400m hurdles.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Lashinda Demus

Silver: Melaine Walker

Bronze: Natalya Antyukh/Irina Davydova

Men’s 400m Hurdles

The United States has won 17 out of the past 24 Olympic Games, making a full sweep of the medals five times. The most recent sweep was in Beijing, where Angelo Taylor, Bershawn Jackson and Kerron Clement lorded it over the competition. Since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the U.S. have fallen short of the gold only once – in Athens, to a certain American-born Dominican named Felix Sanchez.

 

Sanchez (L) and Taylor (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Kerstin Winterkamp)

The 2012 event has a more multinational flavor, with Puerto Rican Javier Culson (47.78s) and Briton David Greene (47.84s) occupying the top two spots in the season top list. Bershawn Jackson is third fastest with 48.20s. The Batman, however, will not compete in his best event in London since he only placed fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Michael Tinsley and Takayuki Kishimoto 岸本 鷹幸, both making their respective Olympic debuts, trail Jackson. The resurgent Sanchez has a season’s best of 48.56s, set in the same Paris Diamond League race where Culson ran his world lead. Angelo Taylor, the Olympic Champion from 2000 and 2008, is one-hundredth of a second behind Sanchez.

  

Culson (L) and Greene (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Chell Hill)

Last season was not exactly a banner year for the intermediate hurdles. Despite L.J. Van Zyl’s spectacular mid-47 clockings in South Africa, Greene needed just 48.26s to wrest the World title in Daegu. With just two athletes below 48 seconds this season, the prospect of faster times does not seem any brighter.

But then again, one could not discount the lure of the Olympic Games. As they say, the Olympics bring out the best in athletes.

The Olympic final could feature the champions from Sydney (Taylor), Athens (Sanchez) and Beijing (Taylor, again), going head-to-head with the World Champions from Berlin (Clement) and Daegu (Greene). Clement (47.24s, 2005), Taylor (47.25s, 2008), and Sanchez (47.25s, 2003) are one of the fastest hurdlers in history.

Culson is the top bet, thanks to his above-par performances in 2012. Greene, despite undergoing a knee surgery last December, seems to be back in tip-top shape after setting a lifetime best behind Culson in Paris early this July.

I’ve always been a big fan of Sanchez. The way he fought through the pain of injury to defend his World title at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships embodied the resolve needed to win such a grueling event. I’d love to see the respected Dominican win another Olympic medal. Taylor, despite his seeming inability to excel in the World Championships, is a proven Olympic performer.

Greene and Culson might be the statistical favorites for Olympic Gold, but one cannot discount the huge experience of the event’s elder statesmen (Taylor only had a season’s best of 48.42s coming into the Beijing Olympics, but he still ran 47.25s in the final!).

The so-called old guys might spring a surprise.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Javier Culson

Silver: David Greene

Bronze: Felix Sanchez

Sources:

Beijing Olympics Results

Daegu World Championships Results

2012 Top List – Women’s 400m Hurdles

2012 Top List – Men’s 400m Hurdles

All-time List – Women’s 400m Hurdles

All-time List – Men’s 400m Hurdles

Takayuki Kishimoto’s (岸本 鷹幸) Olympic Hopes

Japan has a strong intermediate hurdling tradition. Back in the 2001 and 2005 editions of the World Championships, Dai Tamesue 為末大 won bronze medals in the grueling event. Tamesue is the only other modern-day Asian hurdler aside from Liu Xiang 刘翔 who had won medals in the World Championships.

Read: “Dai Tamesue’s 為末大 Double Bronze”

In the Olympic Games, athletes from the vast Asian continent had barged into the top three twice – when Filipino Miguel White won bronze at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Saudi Hadi Soua’an Al-Somaily هادي صوعان الصميلي snared silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Read: “Asian Sprinting – Japan’s Olympic Bronze”

While going over the 2012 top lists of the 400m hurdles, I noticed a Japanese athlete perched at the top 10. Takayuki Kishimoto 岸本 鷹幸 ran a competitive 48.41s last June, en route to topping the Japanese Olympic Trials.

This season, only double World Championship medalist Javier Culson (47.78s), reigning World Champion Dai Greene (47.84s), 2005 World Champion Bershawn Jackson (48.20s), and U.S. Trials winner Michael Tinsley (48.33s) have run faster.  With The Batman out of the U.S. Olympic Team, an Asian athlete is seeded fourth coming into the London Olympics.  On paper, at least, Asia has a legitimate contender for an Olympic 400m hurdles medal.

The 1.71m-tall hurdler was able to shave off a massive 0.86s off his personal best in a span of a little over a year, propelling himself to fifth in the Japanese all-time list. And he is still only 22 years old. Amongst the top 10 in the world this season, only Jehue Gordon is younger than the Kishimoto.

The Japanese athlete reached the semifinals in Daegu last year, albeit with an apparent hamstring injury. Compared to the likes of the other top contenders, Kishimoto’s curriculum vitae seems relatively scant. But then again, the Olympics bring out the best in people. Perhaps the young Kishimoto is destined to emulate – or even better – the legendary Tamesue’s world-beating feats.

The Versatile Rosolova

I first learned about Denisa Rosolova while watching last year’s European Indoor Championships. It was remarkable how a former champion heptathlete and world class long jumper shifted to the quarter mile and strike gold! I admired her athletic talent and versatility. More importantly, Rosolova has the audacity to try something unorthodox. For this, she has reaped dividends.

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Track Beauty of the Week: Lauren Boden

Lauren Boden is this week’s track beauty!

In the post-Jana Pittman years, Boden is Australia’s best bet in the women’s 400m hurdles. Lauren is a six-time Australian champion, a title which she first won back in 2005 as a teenager. That same year, Boden went on to compete at the World Youth Championships in Marrakech, where she won silver (58.30s), on top of her 10th (5.98m) place in the long jump. Boden ran a bit better at the World Junior Championships in Beijing the next year (58.05s), but crashed out at the semifinals.

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Track Beauty of the Week: Shevon Stoddart

Shevon Stoddart is this week’s track beauty!

The Jamaican is a world-class intermediate hurdler. She has a personal best of 54.47s in the 400m low hurdles and 52.89s in the 400 flat. Stoddart has competed in two Olympic Games, in Athens and Beijing. At the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, she went as far as the semi-finals for her best ever performance at a major international.

Photo from Puma

The University of South Carolina alumna also placed fifth at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, on top of her bronze medal from the 2005 Central American and Caribbean Championships.

Stoddart is a woman of many talents. Aside from her proclivity to speed, Shevon is recording artist, a song writer and a designer as well.

Her singing and song-writing prowess, as shown by this song, is way better than nine-time Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis’ “Break It Up!”

Additional Link:

Stoddart’s Facebook fan page

Track Beauty of the Week: Wenda Theron

Wenda Theron is this week’s track beauty!

As a youngster, Theron started out as a short sprinter, attempting the 100m-200m double at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing. She displayed much potential as a youth athlete, reaching all the way to the 200m dash semifinals of the 2005 World Youth Championships in Marrakech. A cursory look at her personal bests (100m dash – 11.88s, 200m dash – 24.20s, 400m dash – 53.93s) indicate her sprinting talent.

   

Photos from web.up.ac.za and sports.media.daum.net

The South African 400m hurdler competed at the Daegu World Championships back in August of this year. The 23-year old ran a superb race in qualifying, stopping the clock in a new personal best time of 56.13s. At the semifinals, however, Theron failed to replicate her performance, finishing in eight place (57.06s).

She improved considerably from her 56.76s clocking at the Shenzen Universiade finals, held a few days before Daegu.

Although the University of Pretoria graduate has yet to land a major international medal, Theron has distinguished herself in continental competition, qualifying in the top eight at the competitive African Championships in 2010 and winning a silver medal at the 2011 All-Africa Games.

Theron qualified for an outright slot for the London Olympics during the South African Open Championships in Pretoria held last May.  She bettered the “A” standard of 55.50s as she ran 55.36s in qualifying.

South Africa has a knack for producing world-class intermediate hurdlers like L.J. Van Zyl and Cornel Fredericks. With such high quality compatriots sharing the same discipline, it won’t be surprising to find Theron amongst the world’s elite in a few years’ time.

Additional links:

University of Pretoria profile

All-Athletics profile

The 400m hurdles – Indoor!

I was about to sleep at the wee hours of Sunday morning, when I read tweets from the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham. I read about 2004 Athens Olympic champion Felix Sanchez winning a 400m hurdles race – INDOORS! Other tweets mentioned something about the athletes being allowed to cut to the first lane after lap one. This, naturally, piqued my interest.

A Google search led me to several informative articles. It turned out that such a race originated in France. The innovative 400m indoor races are held in various races in continental Europe. The Birmingham meet was the first time such a race was held in British soil.

To date, the event hasn’t been added to the major indoor meets. I can understand the reticence. The cardinal rule for hurdling is to stay in your own lane. Although one tends to hit an opponent with one’s arms in the high’s, or in more drastic situations veer into another’s designated lane, lane invasion is a major no-no.

For a more detailed description of the event, click this link

I found a one-year clip of a race in France featuring Sanchez. El Superman, as former world champion and Olympic champion, is the biggest name who has competed in the indoor intermediates. It was an exciting race to say the least! Hurdlers chasing down other hurdlers without segregated lanes is a refreshing sight for spectators – a scary spectacle for sprint hurdlers like myself!

In an interview prior to last night’s Aviva Grand Prix, the Superman said: “You get the hurdles, now you get to deal with other athletes in your lane. It’s exciting but we’re professionals, don’t try this at home.”

The Basics

Here’s a rundown of the event setup and some basic rules. Four hurdles are set on the 200m indoor track. There are hurdles at the start and end of each straightaway, with a distance of 30m separating each barrier. The hurdles, if I’m not mistaken, are set at  intermediate height (of course, I’m not mistaken! Clearing 0.99m high barriers for 400m is.. is.. beyond belief!). According to a tweet by Sanchez himself, cutting to the inner lane “depends on the track… but the break is the same as in the 400 indoors, just after the 2nd bend.”

In the outdoor 400m hurdle race, hurdlers typically follow a 15 step pattern in between barriers (13 for the elite, 17 for non-elite). Since fatigue is a major factor, most intermediate hurdlers shift lead legs in the course of the race; hence, taking 14 or 16 steps in some phases. In the indoor race, it takes 10-11 steps in between the barriers. After which, the athlete runs immediately on the curve, which takes about 25-26 steps.

The finish line greets the hurdler shortly after the 8th and final barrier.

The fundamental tenets of hurdling remain – athletes cannot touch or go under the hurdle. But since the second lap entails an inner lane free-for-all, hurdlers observe some basic ground rules. For instance, when two athletes are running head-to-head (with but half a step separating both), the leader clears the barrier on lane 1, whilst the trailing athlete clears the hurdle in lane 2 and so on.

The Birmingham Race: Sanchez Prevails

Wacthing the clip of the landmark Aviva race, I couldn’t help but gasp at the pure excitement of it all. Sanchez sped to the lead early on, easily making up for the stagger. The 2003 Paris World Champion overtook Britain’s Richard Yates by the 120m mark. The exuberant Yates, matched Sanchez stride-per-stride. Yates swerved to the inner lane the earliest, grabbing the lead in the process.

Read the IAAF article here

Read the Athletics Weekly post here

In the final 100m, Yates, Sanchez and Reuben McCoy were engaged in a mad dash to the tape. Sanchez ran like a man possessed, as if it was an Olympic final, not wanting to yield to Yates. The US-born Dominican hit the last two hurdles and literally stumbled to the finish line.

Being the true showman that he is, Sanchez bowed to audience as soon as he recovered his bearing.

The Athens Olympic champion stopped the clock in 49.76s (three hundredths of a second off Sanchez’ world best). McCoy was second in 49.78s whilst Yates clung on for a 50.21s UK record.

Video credit:

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