Tag Archives: Aries Merritt

On Aries Merritt

The 2012 season did not end well for Liu Xiang 刘翔. Although he had his string of memorable performances in the run-up to the Olympic Games, the year belonged to none other than Aries Merritt. As an avid athletics aficionado the past few decade, the American has been a familiar name ever since he competed with distinction in the tough U.S. collegiate circuit.

Of course, I felt bummed when Merritt dominated Liu in the World Indoors. At the same time, I was happy for the American. He has been part of the hurdling scene for the longest time. Seeing someone win his/her first ever major championship triump is a joy to behold – even at the expense of my boyhood hero.

But lo and behold, the best was yet to come for Merritt. As the season kicked into high gear, so did Merritt’s hurdling. I was particularly impressed with his string of consecutive low 12.90s clockings, which, incidentally, started a few races after the battle royale in Eugene (where Liu smoked ’em all!). No one has ever run so consistently in the sprint hurdles. Judging by the depth of the protagonists, the 110m hurdles Olympic final had the makings of a classic.

Even without the injured Liu and the hobbling Dayron Robles, the Olympic final was still one for the books as Merritt stamped his dominance on an overmatched field. Merritt made winning the Olympic gold so deceptively simple. He stopped the clock at 12.92s, matching the great Allen Johnson’s time at the Atlanta Olympics and a mere one-hundredth of a second from Liu’s Olympic record.

In the countless articles and interviews I’ve read with Merritt, the primary drivers for his 2012 success would have to be his being injury free and the shift to a seven-step start. Although I personally think that Merritt’s lead arm carriage is too high, especially when compared to the likes of Liu and Colin Jackson, the American’s blistering speed in between the barriers is his strongest point. An efficient technique over the barriers, coupled with lightning quick steps in between the hurdles, is the recipe for blistering hurdling times.

A few hours before Merritt’s world record breaking race, I came across Lawrence Clarke’s tweet about Malcolm Arnold’s race plan: “From the coach: ‘Good luck tonight. Beat the fellow on your left.’ He’s only going to break the World Record….”

True enough, Aries Merritt did not disappoint!

London Olympics Recap – The 110m Hurdles

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

Even if I’m gutted to see Liu Xiang 刘翔crash out of yet another Olympics, it is time to make my customary post-Championships analysis of the athletics’ best event (my biased opinion!).

Read: “Brave Liu Xiang 刘翔”

Round 1

What struck me the most were the numerous DNF’s and DQ’s. Being an athlete and a sprint hurdler myself, I know for a fact that getting those acronyms written after one’s name is far from a pleasant experience. Even more so in the case of these Olympians, who had trained for many years for this one shot at World’s Greatest Show.

Four athletes failed to finish in Liu’s qualifying heat. In addition to Liu, Shane Brathwaite and Artur Noga did not make it past the initial flights of hurdles. Senegal’s Moussa Dembele was unable to finish, as he faltered midway into the race. In the other heats, four more hurdlers made early exits from Olympic contention, including British hope Andrew ‘The Demolition Man” Pozzi. Pozzi had recently run 13.34s in Crystal Palace, bolstering his chances of making the Olympic final.

Save for the Liu, the rest of the pre-Olympics favorites (Aries Merritt and Jason Richardon, in particular) all made it through to the next round. Merritt topped the heats with a qualifying time of 13.07s. Sergey Shubenkov (13.26s), Jason Richardson (13.33s), Orlando Ortega (13.26s), Dayron Robles (13.33s), and Andy Turner (13.42s) all won their respective qualifying heats.

Video – Round 1 (from the Olympic Youtube Channel)

Results – Round 1

Semifinals

The American duo of Merritt and Richardson was unchallenged in the semifinal round, as they took the outright finals tickets with relative ease. Richardson stopped the clock at 13.13s in the first semifinal, while Merritt was one-hundredths of second away from clocking yet another 12.93s. The defending Olympic Champion, Dayron Robles, shrugged off initial injury fears with a classy 13.10s.

Ryan Braithwaite, Ortega, and Hansle Parchment were the other automatic qualifiers. Briton Lawrence Clarke and South African Lehan Fourie surprisingly made it to the magic eight, as more fancied prospects like European Champion Sergey Shubenkov and Garfield Darien fell by the wayside.

Prior to London, I picked the young Shubenkov as an outside contender for a podium spot, in light of his impressive string of races. True enough, he looked well at ease in the heats. However, he stumbled in the semis and was unable to progress to the next round.

Video – Semifinals (from the Olympic Youtube Channel)

Results – Semifinals

Final

The only surprise in the final was Robles’ unfortunate injury. In my opinion, the World Record holder could have won at least a bronze medal, had his legs held through.

Robles, Richardson, and Merritt – all seven-step starters – were running practically abreast until the fourth flight of hurdles, when the Cuban pulled up with an injured hamstring. Merritt began to gradually pad his lead over Richarson and the rest of the field in a sterling display of fluid hurdling and jaw-dropping speed in between the barriers.

As expected, Merritt and Richarson won gold and silver. Merritt seemed to have escaped the clutches of yet another 12.93s clocking, as he registered a winning time of 12.92s – one-hundredth of a second off Liu’s Olympic record. Richardson won silver in 13.04s, as Parchment surprisingly lifted the bronze with his 13.12s Jamaican national record.

Position Lane Bib Athlete Country Mark . React
1 6 3236 Aries Merritt USA 12.92 (PB) 0.143
2 4 3246 Jason Richardson USA 13.04 . 0.194
3 7 2182 Hansle Parchment JAM 13.12 (NR) 0.172
4 2 1804 Lawrence Clarke GBR 13.39 . 0.169
5 8 1125 Ryan Brathwaite BAR 13.40 . 0.163
6 9 1477 Orlando Ortega CUB 13.43 . 0.135
7 3 2781 Lehann Fourie RSA 13.53 . 0.136
. 5 1478 Dayron Robles CUB DQ . 0.159

Source: IAAF

Running in the first lane, the fast-starting Clarke gave British fans something to cheer about with his fourth place finish (13.39s), fending off the late race challenge of the 2009 World Champion, Braithwaite.

Source:

IAAF

Additional Link:

London Olympics Preview – The Sprint Hurdles

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)

Monaco Diamond League: 110m Hurdles

Aries Merritt ran below 13 seconds at the Monaco leg of the Samsung Diamond League. With the Olympics opening barely a week away, this was a strong signal that he really does mean business.

Merritt took off like a bullet, with a reaction time of 0.112s. A recent convert to the seven-stride starting pattern, the former U.S. collegiate champion cleared the first barrier ahead of the other hurdlers.

As the race progressed, so did Merritt’s lead over the classy field that included Jason Richardson and David Oliver.

Merritt tied his personal best of 12.93s, the fastest time in the world this year, for the third time this season! Richardson, the 2011 World Champion, got second place (13.08s), with the newly-minted European Champion Sergey Shubenkov (13.09s) breathing down his neck all the way to the finish line. Oliver was fourth in 13.14s.

Whereas Richardson had the tendency to hit hurdles, Merritt has been flawless over the barriers. I’ve often overlooked Merritt when it comes to technical proficiency, particularly because of his high lead arm carriage. But he clears hurdles like a beast – a controlled and serene one at that. Merritt’s lead leg action is remarkably compact. He is not as aggressive and brooding as Oliver. Merritt has this certain kind of relaxed flair reminiscent of a Roger Kingdom.

Shubenkov was the revelation of the race. Although he had first run his 13.09s national record at the Helskinki European Championships preliminaries, doing it again on Monaco – against the full firepower of the American hurdling nation, at that – is no mean feat.

Overall, it was an entertaining race to watch. You can see from the expressions of the hurdlers prior to race, Shubenkov and Merritt in particular, the sheer love and joy hurdling. There was none of that “we’re all grumpy professionals and we do this for the money” crap!

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The Sprint Hurdles”

I’m still sticking with my forecast for London 2012, albeit with slight revisions: Liu Xiang 刘翔 shall win a close fight for gold against Merritt, with Richardson and Shubenkov slugging it out for the bronze.

Results (from the Samsung Diamond League website):

“London Olympics Preview: The Sprint Hurdles” by Joboy Quintos

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

Women’s 100m Hurdles

Sally Pearson is the overwhelming favorite for Olympic gold. The Australian is one of the best – if not, the best – hurdling technicians of all time. More importantly, she possesses the necessary flat out speed to sprint over the barriers quickly. This combination of fine hurdling technique and brute sprinting power makes Pearson a difficult hurdler to beat.

Sally Pearson wins the 2011 World title. (Photo from  Erik van Leeuwen)

Her loss to Kelly Wells at the Aviva Grand Prix was surprising indeed. However, when an athlete is in the midst of 30 race winning streak, she is bound to lose one way or another. The bad British weather made Pearson a little worse and Wells a little better. In times like these, the race could go both ways.

True enough, women can get away with deficient hurdling form in light of the considerably lower barriers in the ladies’ races. All things being equal, a technician has a definite edge over an untidy hurdler. Lolo Jones is an excellent example. The 2008 Olympic Gold was hers to lose (Dawn Harper and Sally Pearson won gold and silver, respectively). Her less-than-ideal hurdling conked out when it mattered the most.

Read: “Lolo Jones vs. Susanna Kallur”

Read: “Sally Pearson vs. Susanna Kallur”

Although Wells is a top class hurdler in her own right, Pearson’s better technique over the barriers gives the latter the consistency to win race-after-race, including those that matter the most. The difference in technique is minute: Wells’ trailing arm tends to flail in flight, compared to Pearson’s efficient up and down movement.

 

Wells (L) and Harper (R). (Photos from Daylife/Getty Images and Erik van Leeuwen)

The 2011 World Champion is owns the fastest time of 12.40s this season. Pearson is the only athlete to have run sub-12.50 in 2012. The evergreen Brigitte Foster-Hylton (12.51s) and Wells (12.54s) trail the Australian. Britain’s best bet in the sprint hurdles, the American-born Tiffany Porter, is tied with the defending Olympic champion Dawn Harper at 12.56s.

The Canadians have a formidable trio in Jessica Zelinka (12.68s), Phylicia George (12.72s), and Nikkita Holder (12.80s). Zelinka will do double duty in the heptathlon and the 100m hurdles. She is surprisingly triumphed over a stellar cast of specialist hurdlers in the Canadian Olympic Trials.  George and Holder are experienced competitors, being finalists in the Daegu World Championships.

Crowd favorite Lolo Jones has a season’s best of 12.74s, way outside the top 10 performances this season.

In terms of lifetime bests, Pearson is ahead of the pack thanks to her impressive series in Daegu: 12.36s in the semis and 12.28s in the final. Only the world record holder Yordanka Donkova (12.21s), Ginka Zagorcheva (12.25s), and Ludmila Engquist (12.26s) have run faster times than the Aussie. Jones, recently recovered from an injury, has a four-year old personal best of 12.43s from the Beijing Olympics. Foster-Hylton (12.45s), Harper (12.47s), and Wells (12.50s) round up the next three.

Barring any unforseen hitches or hurdle crashes, Pearson is my top choice for hurdles gold. Wells, Harper, and  Foster-Hylton are medal contenders as well, but the cool Aussie has my vote because she is every inch the refined hurdling technician.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Sally Pearson

Silver: Dawn Harper/Kelly Wells

Bronze: Brigitte Foster-Hylton

Men’s 110m Hurdles

With three men under 13 seconds this season, the 110m hurdles finals is guaranteed to be a nail-biter.

   

Liu (L), Merritt (C), and Richardson(R). (Photos from Brackenheim [Liu], Paalso Paal Sørensen [Merritt], and Erik van Leeuwen [Richardson])

Aries Merritt, the 2012 World Indoor Champion, is the world leader with two clockings of 12.93s. The comebacking 2004 Athens Olympic Champion, Liu Xiang 刘翔, has a season’s best of 12.97s. Liu actually drew level with Dayron Robles’ world record of 12.87s in Eugene last month, but the wind was over the allowable limit. Jason Richardon, the 2011 World Champion, ran 12.98s in the semifinals of the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Read: “Daegu 110m Hurdles Final – Controversial”

Merritt is the revelation of the 2012 season. The former U.S. collegiate champion has been around the circuit for quite some time, having been part of numerous major championship finals. The humble hurdler’s breakthrough came in Istanbul, where he won over Liu in the 60m hurdles. Merritt’s twin 12.93s performances is a strong statement that he’s out to win nothing less than gold.

Merritt is now the eighth-fastest hurdler of all-time, tied with the great Renaldo Nehemiah.

The world record holder and defending Olympic champion has been bedeviled by injury. Robles has a relatively modest season’s best of 13.18s, in a defeat against young compatriot Orlando Ortega (13.09s). He has competed sparingly this season.

The third American, Jeff Porter, is fourth with 13.08s. The newly-crowned European Champion, Sergey Shubenkov, is one-hundredths of second slower than Porter at 13.09s. France’s Garfield Darien (13.15s) and Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment (13.18s) could secure places in the Olympic final, judging by their season’s bests.

Save for a back niggle that forced him to pull out from the Aviva Grand Prix in London, Liu is my top pick for Olympic gold. He limped out of the Bird’s Nest in pain four years ago. Now fully recovered, Liu is running faster than ever, as shown by his emphatic performances in Shanghai and Eugene against the best hurdlers in the world.

Merritt, Richardson, and a healthy Robles are Liu’s strongest challengers.

Amongst the big four hurdlers, Liu’s technique is a cut above the rest. In an event where the margins of error are small, the finer things – the hurdling nuances – could spell the difference between Olympic glory or ignominy.

Read: “Liu Xiang vs. Dayron Robles”

Read: “Liu Xiang vs. Colin Jackson”

The youthfully exuberant Shubenkov could eke out a surprise. He is a technically sound hurdler who is capable of running below 13 seconds in the near future.

Top Three Predictions

Gold: Liu Xiang

Silver: Aries Merritt

Bronze: Jason Richardson/Sergey Shubenkov

Article by Joboy Quintos

Source:

IAAF

Liu Xiang 刘翔 pulls out of London Diamond League final

I stayed up late last night to watch the London Grand Prix leg of the Diamond League. I eagerly anticipated the 110m hurdles, as Liu Xiang 刘翔, Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson were slated to go on another head-to-head.

However, Liu pulled out of the final, after notching a qualifying time of 13.28s in the heats. He looked like his usual self as he jogged to the finish line, a place in the final in the bag.

When the announcers mentioned that he won’t be running in the main draw, I thought that the birthday boy was just playing mind games with Merritt and Richardson.

Merrrit was superb in the final, stopping the clock at 12.93s to tie his world leading time this year.

While watching the ESPN news channel, I felt a chill run down my spine when I read the words “Liu casts doubt on Olympic campaign” – or something similar. When the words “Liu” and “injury” are juxtaposed, memories of that fateful day in Beijing back in 2008 comes to mind.

According to Sun Haiping in an Associated Press interview, Liu “felt a little uncomfortable in his back after the heat round. We decided to pull out of the finals just for the sake of caution.”

Whew.

I wish the best for Liu – and a speedy recovery from this minor injury.

U.S. Olympic Trials 2012: Merritt and Richardson smash the 13-second barrier

The U.S. Olympic Trials highlighted the fact that the United States’ historical dominance in sprint hurdling. The semis and the finals of the cutthroat Olympic qualifying event saw Jason Richardson run 12.98s twice. Aries Merritt, the 2012 World Indoor Champion, ran 13.01s in the semis.

Merritt, who had been in the shadows of his more illustrious competitors for the longest time, stopped the clock at 12.93s. These were Merritt’s and Richardson’s first wind-legal forays below 13 seconds (Merritt ran a wind-aided 12.96s at the Prefontaine Classic this year).

I’m particularly happy for Merritt. It’s high time he gets the recognition he deserves. With his performance at the Olympic Trials, he has drawn level with hurdling great Renaldo Nehemiah in the all-time list. Merritt is now the fourth-fastest American in the 110m hurdles, behind David Oliver (12.89s), Dominique Arnold (12.90s), and Allen Johnson (12.91s).

As the Olympics draw near, it is great to finally see two of the event’s elite barge into the exclusive sub-13 group.

The Adidas Grand Prix Hurdles Fiasco

At first, I had qualms about the “no-false” rule in athletics.  It’s not that hard to re-start a sprint race, unlike in swimming where the process of climbing up a pool is relatively more cumbersome. The old rule seems aptly just: the second athlete who false starts gets disqualified. But then again, rules are rules. The implementation of the no-false start policy is marginally better for TV coverage, as it facilitates a quicker turnover of events.

But what happens when an official is at fault?

When I was watching the Adidas Grand Prix a few weeks back, I was appalled by the quality of the official starters. The pause before the retort of the gun was too long. Naturally, this unsettled the sprinters more – the 110m high hurdlers in particular. The sprint hurdles is a highly technical event that puts emphasis on rhythm. Once you have these consistently long pauses in the start, the hurdlers become unsettled.

Aries Merritt, the newly-minted American record holder, was shown a red card because of an early twitch in his foot. He was allowed to run under protest, but false-started again (I won’t delve into this running-under-protest issue. I have to do my research first). The third attempt to restart the race was just ugly, with Jamaican Hansle Parchment twitching his foot. By this time, David Oliver was visibly pissed. He shook his head as he made his way back to the starting line. Jason Richardson, the 2011 World Champion, sat down on the track and gave out an exasperated smile.

When the race finally got underway, everyone’s rhythm was thrown off equilibrium. Parchment clipped the second hurdle and lost his balance, dropping out of the race. Dwight Thomas crashed into the final barrier and fell flat on the track. Both incidents were scary, from the vantage point of a sprint hurdler. It’s a good thing nothing serious happened to Parchment and Thomas.

The Jamaican even managed to finish the race despite his nasty crash. My hat is off to Thomas for doing a Derek Redmond.

What was billed as a match up between Merritt, Richardson and Oliver turned into a farce. Richardson won the event in 13.18s, with Jeff Porter (13.26s), the promising Cuban Orlando Ortega (13.35s), and Oliver (13.37s) rounding up the next three.

Flawless Liu Xiang 刘翔 Triumphs in Tracktown, USA!

I was supposed to watch the replay of the Prefontaine Classic, instead of staying up late to watch the live Euro Sport feed (I got home late). But I could not sleep. Soon enough, the clock struck 2:30 AM. I turned on the boob tube and my eyes were glued. I wasn’t disappointed.

Read: “Prefontaine Classic Preview: Clash of the Hurdling Titans”

The 110m high hurdles field featured a stellar lineup. At the heart of Tracktown, USA. Liu Xiang 刘翔 faced off with the best sprint hurdlers the United States had to offer. The 2004 Olympic Champion was the fastest off the blocks (0.131). As soon as the race commenced, Jason Richardson was 1/4 of a stride behind Liu. On Richardson’s left, Aries Merritt felled the first two hurdles and had to play catch up.

Liu was the portrait of perfection as he skimmed over the 1.067-meter high barriers and blazed through the three steps in between. The former world record built up his lead with every hurdle flight. By the halfway mark, he was pulling away from Richardson and Merritt. The 2012 World Indoor Champion, Merritt, recovered his bearing by the eight hurdler, as he overtook the fading Richardson.

Victory!!! (Photo from REUTERS/Steve Dipaola/Yahoo Sports)

The Chinese athletics star was in a class of his own. Upon clearing the tenth and final hurdle, Liu turned on his afterburners and dove to the tape, stopping the clock in 12.87s – faster than his erstwhile world record of 12.88s in 2006. Had the wind-reading been within the allowable limit, Liu’s swashbuckling performance would have tied Dayron Robles‘ world record.

The race was reminscent of Liu’s world record setting run in Lausanne back in 2006, with another American, with Merritt playing the role of Dominique Arnold (who set a then American record of 12.90s).

Lost in the wake of Liu’s phenomenal hurdling was Merritt, who dipped below the 13.00s barrier for the first time, albeit with a 2.4 m/s tail wind. The troika of Richardson (13.11s), Dexter Faulk (13.12s) and David Oliver (13.13s) was separated by just one-hundredths of a second.

Even if it was three-o’clock in the morning in the Philippines, I raised my arms in triumph and cheered like a madman at Liu’s victory! Seeing him in cloud is infectious! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Liu is definitely back!

Results:

Screenshot from the Samsung Diamond League website

P.S.

The IAAF article on the Eugene 110m high hurdles read “Liu Xiang stuns with 12.87w Victory in Eugene.” His race, despite the tail wind, was one for the books. It was a stellar run, a picture-perfect performance, and a dominant display of hurdling. But it certainly wasn’t stunning. The word evokes surprise. Liu Xiang has a personal best of 12.88s and had run 12.97s this season. Him running 12.87w is not surprising – or stunning.

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.

Liu Xiang 刘翔 Clocks 12.97s in Shanghai!

Not even a rain-soaked track and a 0.4 m/s headwind could slow Liu Xiang 刘翔  .

Competing in his home city of Shanghai, Liu stamped his class on a loaded sprint hurdles field. The 2004 Athens Olympic champion came out of the blocks well, trailing Jason Richardson (13.13s) by the smallest of margins. As the race unfolded, Liu got his rhythm going.

He was dominant in the latter stages, completely obliterating the formidable American hurdling troika of Richardson, David Oliver (13.16s), and Aries Merritt, the erstwhile 2011 world leader and the 2012 World Indoor champion (at Liu’s expense). Liu stopped the clock in 12.97s, his fastest time since since 2007! This is also his first foray under the 13-second barrier in five years.

Liu ran with unbridled intensity. It was as if he competed in a major championship final, instead of a Diamond League race. Considering the quality of the competition, Liu couldn’t just disappoint the Chinese spectators – at this hometown at that. Liu dove to finish line, despite his massive lead. He took off his vest as soon as he hit the tape, immediately beginning his lap of honor. Liu’s display of gratitude was touching.

With the Olympics just around the corner, the former world record holder has sent a clear message to his rivals that he means business.

Results from the Diamond League website

Istanbul 2012 Men’s 60m Hurdles: Merritt Triumphs

I’m terribly disappointed to see Liu Xiang   fall short of the World Indoor title. The way he ran the final was uncharacteristic of the 2004 Olympic Champion. He had a good start, but he clipped the second and fifth hurdles. As a keen student of Liu’s hurdling style, I know for a fact that he rarely hits hurdles – much less bring down a barrier all the way to the track.

Perhaps he has been experiencing rhythm problems ever since he got disqualified in a Stockholm race a few weeks back.

View a longer clip from CCTV here

Nevertheless, I’m happy for Aries Merritt. For far too long, the former American collegiate champion has lurked in the shadows of the more prominent hurdlers of today. En route to his first major championship gold medal, Merritt ran a superbly clean race, stopping the clock in 7.44s, one-hundredth of a second off his personal best set back in February. Since winning the World Junior title in Grossetto back in 2004, this was Merritt’s second major championship final. He finished a far fifth in Daegu last year.

Two youngsters trailed the two hurdling veterans. France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde took bronze in a new personal best of 7.53s. Britain’s Andrew Pozzi finished in fourth place, five-hundredths of a second behind Martinot-Lagarde.  The Frenchman and Briton, both just 20 years old, edged out several more experienced competitors. Like Merritt, Martinot-Lagarde is the reigning World Junior champion from Moncton.

In the mixed race interview above, Merritt even failed to hear the gun during his semi-final heat! His dream run to the title could have ended there and then!  Good thing he eventually caught up to second place.

My pre-race projection – Liu, Merritt and Martinot-Lagarde – almost came to fruition. Nevertheless, it was an exciting series of races. It was great to watch the young guns slug it out with grizzled veterans.

Additional Links:

Full Results of the 60m Hurdles

Semi-finals Heat 1

Liu’s Mixed Zone Interview

Andrew Pozzi: The Demolition Man

The way Britain’s Andrew Pozzi cleared the final barrier was one for the books. Hurdling coaches always emphasize aggressiveness. But perhaps the exuberant Pozzi was a bit too harsh on the tenth hurdle!

Pozzi pummels the last hurdle! (Photo from Zimbio/Getty Images)

Britain’s talented hurdler, Pozzi, ran the race of his life in Istanbul. After narrowly edging out Athens Olympic Champion Liu Xiang in the heats and notching an impressive personal best (7.56s), The Demolition Man placed a hard fought fourth in the final. The young Briton stopped the clock in 7.58s, behind the newly-minted World Indoor Champion, Aries Merritt (7.44s), Liu (7.49s) and fellow youngster Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (7.53s).

Congratulations to Andrew “The Demolition Man” Pozzi for a memorable debut on the world stage!

Istanbul 2012: 60m Hurdles Heats Wrap-up

I’ve missed the morning session of Day 2 of the ongoing World Indoor Championships in Istanbul because I had athletics training. Luckily, the clips of the first two heats have already been uploaded to Youtube.

With Dayron Robles pulling out of Istanbul because of a leg injury (and possibly, motivation problems), the prospect of a legendary clash between Liu Xiang and Robles has been delayed. The newly-crowned world champion Jason Richardson and American record holder David Oliver are missing from the start list.

Liu, the former world record holder in the outdoor distance, is the undeniable favorite to win the title. He’s in sterling shape, having set an Asian Record of 7.41s a few weeks back. Liu already has a full set of World Indoor Championships medals from 2003, 2004 and 2008, when he won a bronze, silver and gold, respectively.

On paper, Liu is the fastest competitor amongst the Istanbul participants this season. Aries Merritt (7.43s A), Russia’s Konstantin Shabanov (7.52s), and France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (7.54s)  round up the next three. Kevin Craddock, with a season’s best of 7.46s A didn’t start his heat.

View the 2012 60m hurdles top list here

Martinot-Lagarde, the 2010 World Junior Champion, won the first heat in classy fashion. He had a great start, and ran abreast with four other guys in his heat before gradually powering his way to first place, edging out South Africa’s Lehann Fourie by one-hundredths of a second.

Liu Xiang had a relatively slow reaction time (0.214s), like most of the sprinters and hurdlers competing in the 60m distance. Perhaps he was trying to be careful, in light of the unexpected exits of several big names due to the starting fiasco in Istanbul. Britain’s Andrew Pozzi took the second heat in 7.61s, as Liu (7.62s) slowed down to finish line.

Merritt (7.66s) and Emanuele Abate of Italy (7.71s) won the next two heats.

My picks for top two are Liu and Merritt. Liu, with his injury-plagued seasons finally behind him is hungry for a world title. It’s high time the hard working Merritt wins his share of the limelight too.

The field is open for third place. If I were a betting (which I am not), my money’s on Martinot-Lagarde. His laid-back demeanor reminds me so much of Liu. Happy hurdlers are dangerous competitors. Expect the Martinot-Lagarde to spring a surprise in Istanbul.

Additional Link:

60m hurdles heats results

Liu Xiang 刘 翔 Wallops David Oliver in Shanghai

I was about to go to bed last night, when I stumbled upon tweets about the ongoing Shanghai Diamond League meeting. I rushed to the TV and tuned in to Eurosport, hoping to chance upon a live feed. Lo and behold, my favorite sports channel was beaming it live!

I missed most of the events since I tuned in late. However, I caught glimpses of Mitchell Watt’s and Tero Pitkamaki’s victories in their respective events. A quick check of the schedule showed that the 110m high hurdles was slated as the final event – unsurprising, since Shanghai is Liu Xiang’s hometown.

David Oliver came into the meet as a strong favorite, in light of his undefeated 2010 season. Since returning from his tragic foot injury, Liu Xiang 刘 翔 had yielded to David Oliver in all of their races, starting with the World Indoor Championships in Doha back in March 2010 – where Liu finished way beyond the podium. Liu ended 2010 on a high note, showing glimpses of his old self en route to winning his third consecutive Asian Games crown.

Liu had recently shifted from the conventional 8-stride start to the 7-stride approach favored by Oliver and Dayron Robles. The 2004 Athens Olympic gold medalist appeared relax prior to the race. Oliver was wearing his usual poker face, hardly showing his teeth. One can sense a tad bit bit more tension on the face of the 2010 world leader. Liu wore his official Chinese team kit, in contrast to the other hurdlers. This was a significant gesture that the oft-injured former world record holder meant business.

The race was a no-contest right from the beginning. Liu was the fastest off the blocks with his reaction time of 0.146s. By the mid-race, Liu’s lead had ballooned to a full stride. The former world record holder uncharacteristically grazed the 4th, 7th and 9th hurdle. Nevertheless, Liu’s hurdling rhythm and form was top caliber. Hardly any momentum was lost in between barriers, as the Chinese champion seemed to go faster with every hurdle cleared. Oliver was his usual aggressive self, demolishing the 7th hurdle. As the Shanghai-native crossed the final hurdle, he looked from side-to-side and dove to the finish line like maniac!

It was reminiscent of his Olympic gold-medal run back in 2004. I was ecstatic! I felt like shouting to the top of my lungs! I was so happy that my hero is back on track.

At the end of the race, Liu’s superior technique held sway over Oliver’s less graceful style. Liu stopped the clock at 13.07s, a new world leading time. Oliver (13.18s), Aries Merritt (13.24s), Ryan Wilson (13.31s) and Dong Peng Shi 史冬鹏 (13.52s) rounded up the top 5.

Read the IAAF article here

Even Liu himself was shocked by the time. Prior to the race, the announcers mentioned that Liu expected to go near the 13.20s mark. With the World Championships in Daegu a mere months away, the prospect of a three-pronged duel in the sprint hurdles is dazzling.

Additional link:

110m high hurdles result

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