Tag Archives: Colin Jackson

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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Dayron Robles in Slo-Mo

I am not a Dayron Robles fan. Watching the fine clip below, however, reiterated Robles’ status as the world record holder.

What I don’t like about Robles’ form is his flailing trail arm. Instead of a straightforward swing like Liu Xiang 刘翔 and Colin Jackson, Robles’  left arm tends to push outwards first, before settling at the hip as the lead leg clears the hurdle. On a lesser note, Robles’ trail leg, unlike Liu’s, isn’t parallel to the hurdle crossbar upon clearance.

Read Liu Xiang vs. Dayron Robles

But then again, Robles’ excellent lead leg extension and trail leg action more than compensates for these minor deficiencies. The world record holder’s lead leg swoops over the hurdling at lightning speed. He brings his trail knee high underneath his shoulders. Robles’ leg action is picture perfect – a testament to Robles’ skills as a fine hurdling technician and to his coach, Santiago Arunez’s tried and tested coaching approach.

Irregardless, I still think that Liu Xiang will trump Robles and David Oliver come the Daegu 2011!

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.

Liu Xiang (刘翔) vs. Colin Jackson

Who’s the better sprint hurdler, Liu Xiang or Colin Jackson?

I’ll be attempting to answer this question by comparing the two hurdling greats in terms of major championship performances, times, technique and more. Unlike my previous Susanna Kallur vs. Lolo Jones and Liu Xiang vs. Dayron Robles posts, determining the victor of this track & field dream match is difficult beyond comprehension.

Major Championship Performances

Without a doubt, the Olympics is the most prestigious athletics competition there is. In my opinion, an Olympic gold trumps a World Championship gold, much less top plums from regional games like the European Championships and the Asian Games. If we go by the list of accolades alone, Liu’s Olympic gold medal definitely has more weight than Jackson’s Olympic silver. Both athletes won their respective medals in similar fashion. As a 21-year old, Liu tied Jackson’s world record in devastating fashion. A 22-year old Jackson, finished behind Roger Kingdom at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – the former’s only Olympic medal. The Welshman could have achieved more in the modern Olympic Games, had it not been for an unfortunate spate of injuries. Liu is facing a similar predicament, in light of his shocking withdrawal during the 2008 Games.

Colin Jackson’s 1988 Seoul Olympic Silver

Since winning his first major championship title at the 1986 Commonwealth Games to his retirement after the 2003 World Indoor Championships, Jackson’s long career is a testament to his durability. In a physically taxing event like the 110m high hurdles, elite athletes who manage to compete well into their 30’s are but a handful. Hence, it is not surprising that Jackson had collected a myriad of titles from all major competitions. Throughout his career, the Briton had won two Commonwealth Games titles, three European Indoor golds, one World Indoor Championship gold and three World Championship titles. According to Wikipedia, Jackson went undefeated from 1993 to 1995 (44 races all-in-all). Perhaps the most impressive of all his streaks is his 12-year reign as the European Champion (then held as a quadrennial event). Colin’s 60m hurdles indoor record of 7.30s (Sindelfingen, 1994) still stands up to now.

Colin Jackson’s 12-year reign as European Champion

Liu was en route in matching Jacskon’s dominance, if not for a tragic Achilles injury which slowed him down. Since his withdrawal from the 2008 Olympics, Liu has been but a shadow of his old self, finishing far from the medals at the 2010 Doha World Indoor Championships. Nevertheless, the former world record holder’s curriculum vitae remains impressive. In 2002, Liu broke the legendary Renaldo Nehemiah’s World Junior Record, stopping the clock at 13.12s in Lausanne. A year later, he barged into the top three of the Paris World Championships. By 2008, Liu Xiang is the world record holder and the reigning Asian, World Indoor, World and Olympic Champion.

Read: Sidekicks

Read: Liu Xiang and the Asian Games

Read: Liu Xiang’s Comeback

Liu Xiang’s 2004 Athens Olympic Gold

Times

In the IAAF’s all-time top list for the 110m high hurdles, the ageless Jackson’s had 27 performances to Liu’s 16. Both athletes have had five Sub-13 clockings each. In this category, however, Liu is the better hurdler pound-per-pound, in light of the shorter span of time it took him to achieve the aforesaid hurdling milestone.  Both are former world record holders. However, Jackson had more success competing indoors than Liu.  Liu’s  60m hurdles PB of 7.42s is a far cry from Jackson’s world record. This is unsurprising considering Liu’s penchant for come-from-behind victories. Liu almost always isn’t the fastest starter in the field  – but he does get the job done come the finish line. In a sense, Colin Jackson’s faster indoor time is a testament to his better flat-out speed.

Colin Jackson’s 12.91s world record (Stuttgart, 1993)

Liu Xiang’s 12.88s world record (Lausanne, 2006)

But then again, the two athletes lived in two vastly different eras. Each athlete have different circumstances, that a mere objective look into best times doesn’t merit a judicious verdict!

Technique

Being one of the fastest sprint hurdlers of all-time quite necessarily merits an efficient hurdling technique. Liu and Jackson are the epitome of the ideal sprint hurdler. Looking closely at clips of their races, one is hard-pressed to find any flaws at all. Both observe a short-long-short stride pattern.  They both time their leans perfectly before each hurdle clearance. Liu and Jackson both lead with their respective knees. Their lead leg action isn’t too high or excessive, as their lead legs skim at just about the right height above the 1.067m high barriers. Both Liu and Jackson square their lead legs in the proper angle, with the trail foot parallel with the hurdle crossbar. Moreover, none of the exhibit flailing lead arms or trail arms.

Furthermore, the respective flat out speed of both athletes aren’t too fast for the sprint hurdles (Liu probably runs the 100m dash in 10.3. Jackson’s PB is 10.29s). As Nehemiah puts it, a 10-flat sprinter has a relatively harder time negotiating the three-stride rhythm in between. A fast sprinter’s speed becomes an unwitting curse in the sprint hurdles, as one tends to crowd out in between the barriers, requiring flawless hurdling technique.

Indeed, Colin Jackson and Liu Xiang embody the perfect sprint hurdler!

Jackson takes it further

I grew up watching Liu Xiang; hence, it is unavoidable to become biased to my idol! In the past week, however, I’ve been watching quite a lot of Colin Jackson’s old hurdle races. I was awestruck at how fast Jackson cleared hurdles. Comparing Jackson to Liu, Jackson’s snap of the lead leg was a tad quicker.

There and then, I remembered one particular training journal I borrowed from Coach Ed Sediego. The article (written by the great Renaldo Nehemiah himself!) discussed the finer points of hurdling technique. Jackson lead foot exhibits a picture perfect bowed lead foot – where the foot is rotated 45 degrees outward. This specific action prevents the lead leg from going too high above the hurdle; hence, contributing to less time on the air. Also, Jackson’s head action is more refined than Liu’s. Jackson tucks his chin a little lower and angles his head to side whilst clearing hurdles, giving Jackson’s center of gravity a more stable path of travel.

Photos from thelondonseason.com and davidoliverhurdles.blogspot.com

I’m not saying that Liu Xiang’s technique is flawed. It is perfect. It’s just that Colin Jackson takes the concept of hurdling technique further by mastering these finer points.

Off-track talents

Liu Xiang can pack quite a mean karaoke tune. Like Manny Pacquiao, singing is one of Liu’s talents!

Liu even recorded an actual music video with Se7en:

Not to be outdone, Colin Jackson had performed with distinction in the show Strictly Come Dancing:

I’m a Liu Xiang fan to the core, but the competitive nature of Jacskon’s show weighs a little heavier on my book than appearing in a music video. And in light of the aforesaid categories, Jackson holds the upper hand. Sorry Liu, I’d have to give this one to Colin!

P.S.

I’ll write another Liu Xiang vs. Colin Jackson when the former retires from the sport. I believe that Liu has so much more left in his gas tank. Three cheers to your full recovery Liu Xiang! You’ll get ’em in London.

Additional links:

Colin Jackson wiki

Liu Xiang wiki

Video credits:

leeds212

copteruk

ARRISIPPY

ntujavelin

LoveForChinaForava

LetsRunFaster

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

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