Tag Archives: allen johnson

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)

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Nuances of the Lead Arm Action

Although I employ a crude hybrid of the single- and double-arm shifts, my ideal hurdling form is most certainly the former. I just don’t have the necessary skill level to employ an efficient single-arm hurdling action. In terms of hurdling skill, it is obvious that I’m a big fan of Liu Xiang 刘翔, as well as Allen Johnson and Colin Jackson.

When it comes to arm action, I’m a stickler for the lead arm extension. As the lead leg straightens, the lead arm stretches out as well – as if reaching for the lead foot. Such arm action provides balance, by countering the extension of the lead leg. Swinging the lead arm outwards is a common error amongst beginners. It obviously increases the hang time of the clearance.

There are some hurdlers who bend the forearm all the way inside, with the lead forearm running parallel with the chest. For a hurdler, this is a matter of preference. I, for one, try to keep my arm action as faithful to the simple up-and-down movement of sprinting. Taking the lead arm all the way across the chest, in my opinion, complicates the hurdling action.

But then again, this is a matter of preference. So long as the arms aren’t wildly flailing and the center of gravity remains level, various nuances of hurdling are acceptable. Perhaps such an arm action enables the hurdler facilitate a more forceful trail leg snap, thanks to the increased leverage provided by the lead arm.

Practitioners of this style include the Vukicevic siblings – Christina and Vladimir. Trained by their father, the hurdling technique of the Norwegians are strikingly similar. I stumbled upon clips of their South Africa training session, one can say that they are mirror images of each other!

The older Christina, taller than most women hurdlers, is gradually making a name for herself in the international scene. In an event where speedsters tend to get away with flaws in technique, Christina’s hurdling is most efficient. The younger Vladimir, the 2010 World Junior silver medalist, is on-track to following her sister’s footsteps (or shall we say, three-step?).

Hurdlers aren’t chipped from one single block. One physical activities determines one’s hurdling style. The big and powerful David Oliver for instance, is more aggressive, in light of his background in American Football. Liu Xiang and Colin Jackson, in contrast, are pure technicians, relying on a fluidly classy form. The difference is technique and, ultimately, style makes the sprint hurdles a lot more interesting to watch.

Trammell talks about A.J.

I like the following interview of Terrence Trammell. Trammell, a three-time Olympic silver medalist, shares his thoughts on Allen Johnson.

Trammell and Johnson were former training partners until 2002. For a time, the duo constituted the one-two punch of U.S. hurdling, continuing the fine tradition of the Americans in the event.

Read “Thank you, Allen”

Read “Terrence Trammell and the Elusive Gold Medal”

For Trammell A.J. is, without a doubt, the greatest hurdler of all-time.

I couldn’t agree more.

Video credit:

head1384

Terrence Trammell and the Elusive Gold Medal

People say that one doesn’t win the silver, he/she loses the gold. The Celebrate Humanity ad featuring Robin Williams debunks the aforesaid statement with a weightlifter jumping wild with joy at winning an Olympic silver medal. For mortals like myself who can only dream of competing in the Olympics, a silver medal in the quadrennial games is a pipe dream.

But when one is among the elite of sports, would multiple silver medals be more of a curse?

Terrence Trammell is an athlete with an extensive collection of silverware. As a 22-year old collegiate champion, he won the first of his Olympic sprint hurdling  silvers in 2000, behind the Cuban Anier Garcia. 4 years later in Athens, Trammell again fell short of the gold, this time against Liu Xiang 刘翔. In Trammell’s third Olympic Games in Beijing, the veteran failed to advance to the final because of a hamstring injury.

The University of South Carolina graduate replicated his streak of silver medals in the three editions of the IAAF World Championships as well, finishing 1st-runner up in 2003, 2007 and 2009.  Trammell was edged out by a fast-finishing Liu Xiang in Osaka 2007 by two-hundredths of a second. Despite stopping the clock at 12.99s, the top spot remained elusive.

2009 should have been Trammell’s year to win that elusive major outdoor crown, with Liu Xiang and  Dayron Robles out with injuries. But Ryan Brathwaithe of the Bahamas played the role of spoilsport.
Trammell had won a total of six silver medals in three Olympic Games and three World Outdoor Championships.

Being a near-10 seconds flat 100m sprinter, Trammell has had more success in the shorter 60m hurdle indoor race. During the 2006 Moscow World Indoor Championships, the American notched a unique Gold-Bronze combination in the 60m hurdles and the 60m dash, respectively, winning his 2nd indoor hurdling title. Aside from Harrison Dillard and  Gail Devers, no other track athlete had as much success as Trammell in both the hurdles and the sprints.

Read “Harrison Dillard: The Man Who Won the Wrong Event”

According to the legendary Renaldo Nehemiah, having too much speed in the sprint hurdles causes “crowding out.” Without lightning fast reflexes that can cope with near 10-second speeds, a sprint hurdler’s sprinting prowess becomes a curse. Trammell’s inability to land an outdoor crown can be attributed to his prolific sprinting talent. Despite leading in the first few hurdles, Trammell almost always seem to fade at the latter parts – especially when pitted against excellent finishers like Liu Xiang.

Although not in the same caliber as Liu and Colin Jackson, the American has a  fine hurdling technique reminiscent of his former training partner, Allen Johnson. The former NCAA champion Trammell, with his (1) aggressive style, (2) slightly elevated lead arm carriage, and (3) slightly flailing trail arm, tends to hit hurdles. When pitted against accomplished hurdling technicians like Liu, these little things spell the difference between victory and defeat.

With the emergence of David Oliver as the pre-eminent American hurdler and Liu’s and Dayron Robles’ recovery from injury, 2011 seems like another exciting year for the sprint hurdles.

Do not count out the 33-year veteran just yet. Trammell, with his monstrous flat out speed, might just surprise the top dogs.

Alonzo Jardin: The Hurdling Artist

I had my first taste of national level competition back in May 2003. I was 17 years old, barely out of high school. I shaved off 1.44s off my personal best over the high hurdles, qualifying for the semis with a time of 17.55s. The 2003 Nationals was also the first time I encountered the Philippine national record holder for the sprint hurdles, Alonzo “Dudoy” Jardin.

More than 7 years since that day, my recollections are just vague flashbacks. But one instance stood out. At the dugout of the Rizal Memorial Stadium, I wished him the best of luck as he went head-to-head against Thailand’s Suphan Wongsriphuck, then Southeast Asia’s best sprint hurdler.

The Philippines is not known for its athletics tradition, much less the high hurdles. Aside from notable exceptions like Lydia de Vega-Mercado, Elma Muros-Posadas, Isidro del Prado and Marestella Torres, most of our athletes wilt under Asian-level competition. The Philippines’ last Olympic medals in athletics were won way back in the 1930’s (Miguel White in the 400m low hurdles and Simeon Toribio in the High Jump). Hence, it is not surprising that Dudoy’s 14.75s national record is light-years away from the Olympic “B” standard of 13.72s.

If I can choose one compatriot whom I look up to in the sprint hurdles, I can only name one – Alonzo Jardin. Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate Coach Nonoy Unso’s hurdling prowess, but since I haven’t seen any footage of his best years, I cannot make an honest assessment of the athletics legend. The same reasoning applies to my mentor, national decathlon record holder Fidel Gallenero. Although he taught me the fundamentals of hurdling form, I haven’t seen him race.

In order for me to look up to someone – as a hurdler to another hurdler, I have to base my standards on more than just times and reputation.

Dudoy was different. Even if he shifted to the decathlon in the twilight of his competitive years, I had much respect for his hurdling technique. As a sprint hurdler myself, I put more importance in one’s efficiency of clearance than to brute sprinting power. Yes, the 110m high hurdles is a sprint race. But in order to fully appreciate this wonderful event, one must look at it beyond sprinting alone.

Hence, for me, hurdling is an art form. Everytime I watch Liu Xiang, Allen Johnson and Colin Jackson race clips, my jaws drop in awe at the symphony of speed. As a student of the event, I take much aesthetic pleasure from watching these great technicians demonstrate their craft.

In the past 10 years I spent as a sprint hurdler, Dudoy is – without a doubt – the best exemplar of the Filipino hurdling artist.

I had the privilege of racing the Filipino champion twice in my career. The first time was during the 2006 National Open. It was the finals of the sprint hurdles, Dudoy was at the lane beside mine.

I wound up a far fourth place (15.65s – a new PB) behind Romel of TMS Ship (15.1), Joemary Padilla (15.1) and Orlando Soriano (15.5s). It turned out that Dudoy didn’t even finish clearing the 1st hurdle, to save his legs for the grueling decathlon.

Months later, we went at it again. This time, he emphatically stamped his class, edging out Padilla of Mapua. I placed a distant 3rd (15.6). Dudoy ran a 15.1, if I’m not mistaken.

Emer Obiena and Fidel Gallenero once told me about an Australian trainer’s awe at learning that Dudoy is only a a high 14 second sprint hurdler. With his hurdling proficiency, the Australian reasoned, Dudoy should be running in the 13 seconds. Perhaps it was his lack of flat out speed (he ran the 100m in around 11.3 to 11.4). An Olympic-level hurdler should be able to run the 100m in at least 10.5s.

The last time I saw Dudoy was in 2009. I was in the midst of my first, ill-fated comeback. He was training again after tearing the ligaments in his knee after a freak javelin training incident.

Alonzo Jardin’s 14.75s national record is bound to be broken one of these days. The younger Unso has the most potential to reclaim the national mark of his illustrious father. In a country where athletes from the less popular sports tend to get marginalized, Jardin will probably be forgotten by the generations of tomorrow.

Writing this piece is the least I can do for a fellow hurdler. Never mind the results; never mind the accolades.

Alonzo Jardin is one of the best, if not the best, hurdling technicians this country of ours had ever produced.

110m High Hurdles: 2003 Paris and 2005 Helsinki World Championships

Whilst writing previous Liu Xiang post, I stumbled upon clips of Liu Xiang’s bronze medal in the 2003 Paris World Championships and his silver medal in Helsinki World Champs, two years later. This is the first time I’ve seen actual footage of the two races!

2003 Paris World Champs:

This was Liu Xiang’s first-ever major championship medal and Allen Johnson’s last world outdoor title. Liu was just 20-years old, but still managed to finish third (13.27s) behind the more illustrious American duo of Johnson (13.12s) and the 2000 Sydney Olympics silver medalist, Terrence Trammell (13.20s).

19-year old Shi Dong Peng 史冬鹏 (13.55s), fresh out of a silver medal in the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston, also qualified for his first major senior final.

Results (from sporting-heroes.com):

  1. Allen JOHNSON (USA) 13.12
  2. Terrence TRAMMELL (USA) 13.20
  3. Xiang LIU (CHN) 13.23
  4. Larry WADE (USA) 13.34
  5. Chris PHILLIPS (USA) 13.36
  6. Marcio Simao DE SOUZA (BRA) 13.48
  7. Dongpeng SHI (CHN) 13.55
  8. Yoel HERNANDEZ (CUB) 13.57

2005 Helsinki World Champs:

Liu (13.08), the newly-crowned Olympic champion and then co-world record holder, was upset by the audacious Ladji Doucoure (13.07s) of France. The 19-year old Frenchman came out of a disappointing Olympic campaign, badly hitting one of the barriers in the final. Allen Johnson, the defending world champion, clung on to a quick 13.10s.

The Helsinki World Champs announced the coming of age of the new generation of sprint hurdlers. It’s unfortunate that Doucoure has been slowed down by a spate of injuries in the subsequent years.

Results (from sporting-heroes.com):

  1. Ladji DOUCOURE (FRA) 13.07
  2. Xiang LIU (CHN) 13.08
  3. Allen JOHNSON (USA) 13.10
  4. Dominique ARNOLD (USA) 13.13
  5. Terrence TRAMMELL (USA) 13.20
  6. Joel BROWN (USA) 13.47
  7. Maurice WIGNALL (JAM) 13.47
  8. Mateus FACHO INOCENCIO (BRA) 13.48

It feels great to actually see the two races. Being a student of the sport living at the age of Web 2.0 surely has its advantages!

Video credits:

jiaimefprod

azfeet22

Thank you, Allen.

The indefatigable American sprint hurdler announced his retirement from the sport, 14 years after winning the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games gold medal.

Allen Johnson’s accolades in the 110 high’s are unparalleled. Allen has the most sub-13 races among all hurdlers in history. His personal best of 12.92 (which he set twice in 1996) ranks him as the 6th fastest sprint hurdler of all time. Who (in the track circles at least) can ever forget Johnson’s four, straight World Championships win (1995, 1997, 2001 and 2003)? Allen’s last major international podium finish was at the 2008 World Indoor Championships, where he ran 7.55s for the silver medal.

Despite all these, the great Johnson remained down-to-earth, always ready to lend a helping hand to the younger crop of professional athletes (or to respond to emails from fans as faraway as Southeast Asia). Johnson, unlike the stereotypical American sprinter, was never brash or prone to trash talking. Allen is every inch the true sportsman.

Even if I haven’t met Allen personally, it feels as if I’ve known him all along from all the track & field articles I’ve read and hurdles clips I’ve seen.

Read Allen Johnson’s SpikesMag interview

Read Lolo Jones’ SpikesMag interview about how she looks up to Allen.

Read this post that I wrote about Allen: “Go, Allen Go!”

Only a month ago, a Universal Sports article about Johnson came out, highlighting the 39-year old’s bid to clock a sub-13.20 – a new age-group record, should he achieve the feat.

It saddens me to learn that one of the sport’s icons called it quits. But then again, Johnson has been on borrowed time. No one in recent times had remained at the top of this grueling event for so long (note: Donald Finlay of Great Britain competed in the 1948 London Olympics as a 39-year old).

Thank you, Allen. Godspeed.

“It’s just come to the point where my body can’t take it any more. Maybe I can coach some hurdlers or some sprinters…give something back. I”m going to miss it, I really am but it was fun.” – Allen Johnson

Additional Links:

Universal Sports article

BBC article

Slideshow: Allen Johnson’s career

Photo credits:

Tribune India

David Oliver: Controlled Aggression

With injuries to both Liu Xiang 刘 翔 and Allen Johnson, I’ve been at a loss on whom to support in the best track event of all, the sprint hurdles. Of course, I root for the handful of mid- to low-13 Asian hurdlers such as Naito Masato 内藤 真人 of Japan and Dong Peng Shi 史冬鹏 of China. Although the latter had reached several World Championships finals, Asian sprint hurdlers lag behind their American and European counterparts.

Despite my admiration for Cuban athletics in general, I was indifferent to Dayron Robles (since he broke Liu’s world record!). Robles is a fine hurdler. We both compete with spectacles and were almost born on the same day and year (Robles – 17 Nov 1986. Yours truly – 18 Nov 1985). Perhaps I’m just fiercely loyal to Liu’s 12.88s.

Months ago while browsing the web, I chanced upon David Oliver‘s blog. At first glance, Oliver might seem intimidating because of his imposing physique. Built like a football player, Oliver reminds me of the great American decathlete, Milton Campbell – who won the gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. The 6’3, 205 behemoth is a nice guy and quite approachable (watch out for David Oliver’s 10-for-10 feature!) to his growing legions of fans.

Despite his powerful physique and aggressive hurdling style, Oliver rarely hits hurdles in such a way that it hinders his forward momentum. He powers his way across the 10 barriers with a certain sense of unique elegance. Indeed, a hurdler’s style depends upon his God-given bodily faculties.  If the likes of Liu Xiang and Colin Jackson epitomize the beauty of hurdling, Oliver exudes sheer control of power.

I particularly admire one small yet important nuance of Oliver’s form, his lead foot. Sprint hurdlers usually keep their lead foot straight as the leg clears the hurdle. Some technically endowed athletes like Colin Jackson clears with a bowed lead foot to facilitate faster lead leg clearance.

An angled lead foot shortens the effective length of the lead leg (similar to the concept of dorsi-flexion); hence, resulting into faster movements for the shorter lever. Colin Jackson’s bowed lead leg is a textbook example of this advanced hurdling technique.

Oliver won the recently-concluded U.S. Outdoor Track & Field Championships with a new personal best of 12.93s – ranking him 6th among the all-time lists. He’s now as fast as the prolific Renaldo Nehemiah. and three-hundredths of a second away from Dominique Arnold‘s American record. With the top 5 times in the event this year all run by Oliver, the 28-year old Beijing Bronze Medalist is stamping his class on the rest of field.

I long for the day when the likes of a healthy Liu Xiang, Robles, Oliver, Doucoure and an injury-free Allen Johnson meet on the track. Now that’s a hurdles race everyone has to see.

Additional Links

Video of David Oliver’s 12.93s race (from Universal Sports)

IAAF Article

Photo Credits

Yahoo News

http://cache.daylife.com

http://emmabarrow.wordpress.com

Mo Greene’s spikes are on fire!

I don’t really like brash sprinters, but Greene’s post-race antic really got me laughing.

Go Allen Go!

Struggling with the event years ago, I remember watching an IAAF Hurdles Training Video to iron out the deficiencies in my technique. Two of my three favorite hurdlers, Allen Johnson and Colin Jackson, were featured in that video. At that time, however, I preferred the former World Record over Johnson.

Through the years, I learned to appreciate Allen Johnson. Never in the history of the event has a hurdler stayed on top of the pack. Despite strings of injuries that cut short the best of his performances, Allen always seemed to come back from the bottom.

Johnson with his daughter, shortly after winning the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Gold

Johnson won in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and an unprecedented four World Championship Gold Medals (1995, 1997, 2001 and 2003), his last World Gold coming at the expense of an upstart Liu Xiang.

Soon enough, Liu and Johnson became my hurdling heroes. I loved how they dueled prior to the 2004 Athens Games – and the mutual respect they had for each other. There was no trash talk or bad blood (like the Michael Johnson vs. Maurice Greene chapter) between the two, despite the multitude of head-to-head battles. In fact, Liu actually idolized the Johnson. What a great race that could have been, had Johnson not clipped a hurdle in the preliminary rounds in Athens.

Despite injuries, Johnson did not fade away. In 2006, he again went under 13 seconds, clocking 12.96s. At the age of 37, Johnson grabbed silver in the 2008 World Indoor Championships. After reading this article from Universal Sports, I’m glad to know that my idol – at 39 years old – is not going to hang up his spikes any time soon.

I’m still a little tired from the light hurdles workout I did last night. Recovering my competition sharpness would take tons of hard work and much discipline. Reading about a 39-year old guy aiming to run sub-13.20 makes the struggle a lot easier to bear.

“The hunger is still there. I’ve always loved running. Besides you only live one time and when I do stop running it will be over forever. So I am going to make the most of it while I still can.” – Allen Johnson

Photo credits:

http://www.spikesmag.com

Liu Xiang’s (刘翔) Comeback

Being a hardcore Liu Xiang (刘翔) fan, I must admit that it kills me to see my idol struggle. Although Liu remains his ever-cheerful self, its disconcerting to hear him say that he’s quite content with just landing a slot in the 2010 Doha World Indoor Championships or clocking a poor 13.40s to finish behind David Oliver and Shi Dong Peng 史冬鹏.

A column from Universal Sports (which is a fine source of US-oriented track & field stuff, by the way) highlights Liu’s “injury and low confidence-induced rut.” When asked about his chances for London 2012, Liu replied: “The London Olympics is too far for me. I must start from the very beginning. I am not sure about myself now.”

But then again, one has to be an athlete himself to understand where Liu Xiang is coming from. Allen Johnson’s remarks on the prospect of Liu’s recovery is enlightening: “I don’t see why not. It’s still two years away… (Liu’s problems) will pass in time, it’s just a matter of working through.”

It turns out that Johnson himself went under the knife for that same Achilles injury. Being a fixture in sprint hurdling (and being Liu’s idol), Johnson’s words come with so much wisdom.

In a sense, there is wisdom in Liu Xiang’s mindset. He’s at a stage wherein recovery is painfully slow; overexertion is a clear and present danger. Hence, having a pressure-free perspective about competing could indeed facilitate a seamless transition from recovery to top-notch performance. It’s clear that Liu does not intend to raise the bar too high, that the former World, World Indoor and Olympic Champion does not want to set too high a summit only to see himself fail in the enterprise.

Liu vs. Johnson back in 2004

Liu Xiang with his idol

Photo credits:

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn

http://olympic-spirit.blogspot.com

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