Tag Archives: 400m low hurdles

“Miguel White (1909 – 1942): Olympic 400m Hurdles Bronze Medalist” by Joboy Quintos

I was a nineteen year-old college sophomore when I first read about Miguel White. Despite the best of my efforts, I was stuck in a rut, unable to go below sixteen seconds in the 110 high’s and qualify for the finals. I spent a considerable amount of time poring over athletics books, to further my knowledge of the sport and to get a much-needed dose of inspiration amidst those troubled times.

I came across a mildewed book about Filipino sporting legends. The Philippines had won a handful of medals in the Olympic Games, a couple of those by track & field athletes. I was awestruck. It turned out that Philippine sports, athletics in particular, had a storied past. I found the exploits of Simeon Toribio and White more interesting than rampant politicking often featured in contemporary sports pages.

There were more material written about Toribio, who eventually became a lawyer and a congressman after his athletics days. Miguel White’s story, however, was shrouded in mystery. White had an American father and a Filipina mother. He competed for the Philippines at the Berlin Olympics, winning the 400m low hurdles bronze. He could have performed with equal distinction at the 110m, but fell in the qualifying heats, unable to finish. Unlike Toribio, who lived until he was sixty-four, White died during the Second World War.

In the past few years, I tried in vain to look for clips of White’s Olympic medal winning effort. Photos were just as scarce. A few days earlier, I stumbled upon a treasure trove Olympic programs (from the 1896 Athens Olympics all the way to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games).

White, Hardin and Loaring on the podium. A proud moment for the Philippines! (Photo from the 1936 Berlin Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

Lo and behold, there were photos of Miguel White, as well as the results of the qualifying heats. The Olympic program even included descriptions of the race conditions and the lane placements. For the athletics nerd that I am, these were priceless!

White went up against a quality field, among them Glenn Hardin of the United States, the world record holder at 50.6s. The Filipino topped the third heat in qualifying, stopping the clock in 53.4s, ahead of the eventual silver medalist, John Loaring (54.3s) of Canada. The American also qualified with ease, submitting a time five-tenths slower than White’s.

Miguel White from the Philippine Islands was the fastest hurdler in qualifying. In this day and age where Filipino athletes are hard-pressed to meet the Olympic “B” standard, reading about this was surreal! In the semi-finals, White (53.4s) finished behind Hardin (53.2s) in the first heat, securing a spot in the finals.

The first bend. Hardin and White are at the outermost lanes. (Photo from the 1936 Berlin Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

The world record holder stamped his class on the rest of the field. At the last hurdle, Hardin was a full stride from Loaring and White, who were locked in a tight battle for second place. The Canadian (52.7s) edged out White (52.8s) by a tenth of second.

Miguel White had emulated Simeon Toribio’s high jump bronze from  the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.

A good shot of the final flight of hurdles. Hardin leads, with Loaring and White battling it out for the silver. (Photo from the 1936 Berlin Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

It is quite unfortunate that the Olympic feats of Toribio and White have been practically forgotten. Philippine sports may be in the doldrums, but perhaps looking back at our golden past might inspire a new generation of Filipino athletes.

Results (screenshots from the 1936 Berlin Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation):

1.) First Round:

Semi-Finals:

Final:

The Victors:

Article by Joboy Quintos

Source:

1936 Berlin Olympics Program (from the LA84 Foundation website)

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Dai Tamesue’s 為末大 Double Bronze

East Asians aren’t known for their prowess in athletics. Hence, the handful of medals that our Japanese neighbors had won in the years past hold much value. I admire Japanese track & field athletes the most because of the raw emotion that they exude. This exemplifies the very essence of sport.

Dai Tamesue 為末大 is one such athlete. As a talented 22-year old, Tamesue crashed out of the heats in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. He clipped the penultimate hurdle in the grueling 400m low hurdles. Nevertheless, he managed to finish the race in 1:01.81, much slower than his then personal best of 48.47s.

Tamesue bounced back in sterling fashion the next year at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships. He ran a gutsy race, storming to the lead early on. As the hurdlers came into the final bend, the diminutive Japanese man was the surprise leader. However the American-born Dominican Felix Sanchez and the Italian Fabrizio Mori overtook Tamesue in the final 80m.

After the disappointment in Sydney, Tamesue shed tears of joy at his bronze medal. The Japanese shaved off more than half-a-second from his erstwhile personal best, stopping the clock at 47.89s.

In the next couple of years, Tamesue failed to replicate his winning form. He didn’t go beyond the semi-finals of the 2003 Paris World Championships and the 2004 Athens Olympics. At the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, the then 28-year old Tamesue (48.10s) again struck bronze with much drama. As he shook off the effects of lactic acid after his characteristically gutsy all-out racing style, he overtook the rapidly decelerating Kerron Clement (48.18s).

Four long years after his Edmonton triumph, Tamesue once again reached the podium of a major championship.

By the time the Japan hosted its own edition of the World Championships in 2007, Tamesue was but a shadow of his old self. Approaching 30-years old, the veteran could only manage to place 6th (49.67s) in his heat.

A bronze medal in the World Championships might not count for much in terms of relative athletics greatness. But can greatness be holistically defined by medals alone? Derek Redmond became immortalized as he dramatically limped to the finish line assisted by his dad. Tamesue, albeit in a far lesser dramatic scale, is worthy of his own Celebrate Humanity moment.

Some athletes grumble at winning less than gold. If some people say that you don’t win silver, you lose the gold, what more can you say for a bronze medal? But for Tamesue, his two bronze medals exemplify the hopes of an entire nation. Tamesue, by the way he sunk to the ground in disbelief and raised his arms in triumph afterwards, is every inch the winner.

The Low Hurdles

During last Saturday’s fortuitous encounter with my former college team, my coach of five years uttered two words: “Four lows.” It was good coaching advice coming from a veteran trainer.

For a track & field athlete, this refers to the 400m Low Hurdles, one of the most grueling events in the sport. Back in high school, the lows were my primary event, instead of the highs. In my senior year in high school (UAAP 65, December 2002), I won gold in the lows, stopping the clock at the pedestrian time of 1:05. I was stricken by a bad case of the flu prior to the meet, ruing my chances in the three individual events I had. Thankfully, I recovered enough measure of health to eke out a win in my best event. It was an inspired performance, having qualified for the final ranked in 8th place. I was apparently out of sync, in light of my illness. In the coming days, I faltered at the 110m high hurdles (3rd) and the 400m dash (4th).

110m high hurdles (7:53)

400m low hurdles (8:29)

To ease my transition into the senior ranks, I competed in just the 110 high’s during my first season as a college-level athlete. The event stuck. And I fell in love with the highly technical sprint hurdles.

In the latter years, I was supposed to take up the lows again. In my junior year, I had to scratch out of the 400m low hurdles qualifying heat to conserve my leg strength for the crucial 4x100m relay (I was the last minute addition to an injured Rob Sargan. We won Ateneo’s first-ever silver medal since 1994 that year). A freak hurdling injury in my senior year put me on the injured list. In my fifth and final year of eligibility, my unwarranted fears of burnout saw me skipping the lows yet again.

Looking back, I can honestly say that I acted like a wuss, turning down the opportunity to take up another event. I was too selfish, wanting to focus on my individual gold prospects (I finished fourth in the 110 high’s, my only individual event). As the team’s elder statesman, I should have met the challenge head-on, instead of running away with my tail between my legs.

To my coach and teammates, I apologize. Whew. It feels good to get that out of my system.

Can I fit in low hurdles training in my schedule as a quarter-life stricken professional? Of course, it’s possible. Anything is possible. One advantage of a potential shift to lows is that the longer hurdles race isn’t as technically demanding as the high’s. This comes at the price of a decent quarter-mile sprint. Moving up in distance would necessitate longer (and lung-busting!) training times. Despite having been pampered by short sprint workouts for so long, I know for a fact that this shift is achievable.

I never had the fastest of sprinting times. In fact, I almost always lagged behind the other sprint hurdlers of my time. Even if my relatively efficient hurdling technique kept me in the race, it wasn’t enough to turn out dominating performances.

Was I better suited for the longer, speed endurance events? Perhaps. But then again, there’s no use crying over spilled milk, as the saying goes! My first and foremost priority is building my career, not an athletics comeback. I do not want to be consumed by the intense passion of being the nation’s best hurdler yet again. I’m way past that. My goals for my modest comeback is far from lofty.

I simply want to train and race again, to reach the fastest possible time, making the most out of the circumstances I inhabit. As I’ve said before, there are far greater things in life than clearing hurdles.

The 400m hurdles/400m Dash Combo

Natalya Antyukh’s victory in the 400m hurdles in Barcelona reminded me of an interesting fact I picked up from my favorite track & field book, A World History of Track & Field Athletics 1864-1964.

Back in the 30’s up to the 50’s, before the advent of professional sports and specialization in track events, hardly anyone specialized in the 400m low hurdles. Prior to the Olympics, 400m flat sprinters usually trained over the barriers a few times and ran a few races, never adopting the man-killer discipline entirely.

This highlights an important point that in the intermediate hurdles, one’s sprinting ability matters more than one’s hurdling prowess. Whereas a sprint hurdler takes approximately 37 strides throughout the entire 110m race, an intermediate hurdler naturally sprints longer. In light of the increased distance in between hurdles in the lows, it is imperative that the elite intermediate hurdler should possess a consistent stride pattern, a fearless demeanor and a fairly decent ability to sprint the quarter mile.

In recent track history, Angelo Taylor is arguably the best example of a 400m sprinter – 400m hurdler combination. The Sydney and Beijing Olympic 400m low hurdles Champion, despite several off-track controversies, had won major championship medals in the flat, the relays and the lows.

The newly crowned European low hurdles champion, Antyukh (also the 1998 World Youth Champion over the lows and the 2004 Olympic 400m dash bronze medallist) is the most recent top-level exemplar of the hurdler/sprinter.

Athens 2004: Fani Halkia’s Golden Lap

One of my most indelible memories of the 2004 Athens Olympics is Fani Halkia‘s gold medal-winning performance in the 400m low hurdles. With the suspension of Greece’s best medal hopes, Kostas Kenteris and Ekaterini Thanou, for faking a motorcycle accident to miss a drug test, Halkia’s golden lap was a welcome change from all the controversy. Never mind that Halkia failed a doping test in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, her victory in front of tens of thousands of Greeks is truly priceless.

I had goosebumps just listening to the cheers of “Hellas (Greece)! Hellas! Hellas!”

It’s remarkable to note that the Australian hurdler, Jana Pittman-Rawlinson, finished a respectable 3rd place despite having knee surgery weeks before the Olympics.

Additional links:

IAAF write-up

BBC News article on Halkia’s failed drug test

Photo credits:

IAAF

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