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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

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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)

“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

Yordan O’Farrill: Cuban Young Gun

Even if I’m a loyal Liu Xiang 刘翔 supporter, I have nothing but respect for Dayron Robles and the Cuban hurdling program. Cuba only has a population of around 11 million. Its command economy has been weakened by decades by the American embargo, and yet, it has been able to produce a steady line of Olympic hurdling champions in Anier Garcia (Sydney 2000) and Robles (2008 Beijing).

While going over news articles of the World Junior Championships in Barcelona, I was impressed by the newly crowned 110m hurdles (0.99m) champion, Yordan O’Farrill, both by his hurdling and his propensity to wear glasses in a race! As a bespectacled hurdler myself, I have a unique sense of affinity with my myopic counterparts.

The Cuban clocked a relaxed 13.44s in qualifying. He upped the ante in the semifinals, notching 13.28s as he won his heat.

O’Farrill set a new championships record of 13.18s in the final, as he finished ahead of Australia’s Nicholas Hough (13.27s) and France’s Wilhem Belocian (13.29s).

The World Junior Champion is part of Robles’ training group under the great Cuban hurdling coach, Santiago Artunez. Hence, it is not surprising that O’Farrill is technically proficient over the barriers. His center of gravity stays level all throughout the race. The young Cuban’s arm action during hurdling clearance is supple and efficient. The way he snaps his trail leg is remarkably fast – and reminiscent of the Robles himself.

The 19-year old Cuban might just be the Robles’ heir apparent, as an IAAF article suggests.

With his performance in Barcelona, O’Farrill has been elevated to third place in the 110m hurdles (0.99m) list, behind Americans Wayne Davis (13.08s)  and Eddie Lovett (13.14s). Liu still holds the World Junior record over the senior hurdles (1.067m) at 13.12s.

Although I firmly believe that youth and junior athletes should make the transition to the senior barriers in a gradual manner, Liu’s record carries more weight. Junior records set over 1.067m hurdles are easily comparable to the senior times, without the handicap of lower barriers.

To date, O’Farrill has a lifetime best of 13.91s over the senior hurdles. With training buddies like Robles and a superb coach in Artunez, the young Cuban is on the right track.

Additional Links:

Barcelona 2012 110m hurdles (0.99m) results

All-Time List – 110m hurdles (0.99m)

The Future of European Hurdling

Sergey Shubenkov is the real deal.

He had set a new Russian national record of 13.18s coming into the European Championships in Helsinki. Despite a headwind, the 2011 European U23 Champion ran 13.28s in his qualifying heat. The young Russian stamped his class in the semifinals, stopping the clock in a European-leading time of 13.09s.

View the longer version here

The way he clears the barriers is impressive. The speed of his clearance is noticeable – from the lean to the forceful lead leg snap. It is reminiscent of ease of movement of Dayron Robles’ and Liu Xiang’s respective hurdling techniques. I have yet to study a slow motion clip of his hurdling, but his form – somewhat resembling the archaic double arm shift – is refreshing to watch.

He is a technician that has remarkable speed in between the barriers, as shown by his increasingly quicker times. And he is just 21 years old!

Shubenkov’s time at the Helsinki semifinal ranks him as the sixth fastest European all-time, behind Colin Jacskon (12.91s, 1993, 26y), Ladji Doucoure (12.97s, 2005, 22y), Tony Jarrett (13.00s, 1993, 25y), Florian Schwarthoff (13.05s, 1995, 26y), and Stanislavs Olijars (13.08s, 2003, 24y). Shubenkov had run the fastest time by a European athlete since Doucoure won the World title in the very same stadium seven years ago.

The Russian is in good company. Jackson was a former world record holder, many-time European champion, and and an Olympic silver medalist. Doucoure almost won a medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, had he not fallen badly. Schwarthoff is an Olympic bronze medalist and a European silver medalist. Olijars, a World Indoor bronze medalist and a former European Champion, reached the finals of the Athens Olympics.

With Shubenkov’s impressive showing at the European Championships, the future looks bright for the 21-year old. Considering his youthful exuberance, natural hurdling talent, and the sheer joy that he exudes practicing the sport, I won’t be surprised if he makes an impact at the London Olympic Games. The way he carries himself on the track reminds me a lot about Liu Xiang. Happy hurdlers, indeed, are great competitors.

Read: “Monaco Diamond League – 110m Hurdles”

A finals appearance is probable. He will be up against the likes of Aries Merritt, Liu, Jason Richardson, and Dayron Robles. Shubenkov had displayed maturity beyond his years at the Monaco leg of the Diamond League, where finished two-hundredths of a second behind Richardson. A medal is a distant possibility, if the puzzles fall into place.

Additional Videos:

Shubenkov’s win at the European U23 Champs

Shubenkov’s U23 post-race interview

Day 4 Interview (after the semis)

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.

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 NEVER False Starts!

Liu Xiang (刘翔) NEVER False Starts! The 2004 Athens Olympic champion has always been the epitome of cool. Since the time I watched Liu dominate the 2002 Asian Games 110m high hurdles final, I’ve been one of his biggest supporters. Never have I seen him bungle a start.

The Stockholm 2012 XL Galan took a bizarre twist. Aside from the fact that he was up against an injured Dayron Robles (who pulled out of the ongoing World Indoor Championships in Istanbul) for the second time since Daegu, the event was practically pressure free. At the set position, Liu didn’t just flinch – he ran out of the starting blocks in a seemingly deliberate fashion.

Note: My favorite French athletics media men provide an excellent yet unintelligible commentary!

Although he shrugged this off as an accident,  referring to it as a “mistake in competition.” In an IAAF interview, Liu said : “It [the disqualification] doesn’t really mean so much to me, more importantly for me [what is more pressing] is how to face it, accept it, pay attention to it, deal with it and let it go.”

Was Liu trying out mind games on Robles? Or did he just have a bad start? One can only speculate. Whatever the reason, it is best to take Liu’s word for it.

Liu Xiang 刘翔 Outclasses Robles in Birmingham

In the first clash between Liu Xiang (刘翔) and Dayron Robles since the controversial 110m high hurdle final in Daegu, the 2004 Olympic Champion ran roughshod over the opposition. From the gun to the tape, Liu was unchallenged. Even the fast-starting Robles was behind by half a stride right out of the blocks, despite having a lightning quick reaction time of 0.009s compared to Liu’s 0.154.  Only Dexter Faulk over in lane 1 was fast enough match Liu’s pace.

In usual Liu fashion, he ran a clean race. Whereas the erratic Robles clipped the final barrier.

The former world record holder stopped the clock in 7.41s, way faster than his 7.55s season’s  best from 2011. His time in the final was one-hundredth of a second faster than his previous best of 7.42s from 2007. Robles ran a season’s best of 7.50s.

The American troika of Faulk, Kevin Craddock and Jeff Porter all registered identical times of 7.54s, but finished in the aforesaid order following a closer inspection of the photo finish tape. Aries Merritt was a close sixth with 7.55s.

Results from UK Athletics

It feels great seeing my idol win! His post-race celebration – devoid of bravado and chest-thumping – was characteristic of Liu!

“I still feel I didn’t do very well over the first two hurdles and there is work to be done there,” said Liu Xiang in an IAAF article. “I am excited about the rest of the year now.” It’s important to note that prior to 2011, Liu had an 8-step approach to the first hurdles. Considering the fact that he had run faster than his 2007 best, the prospects for this March’s World Indoor Championships look bright – and astoundingly fast.

I’m not discounting Robles just yet. After all, the 2008 Olympic Champion owns the second-fastest 60m hurdles time in history (7.33s).

Screenshot from CCTV

I have to commend the organizers for a well-thought out move. To prevent a probable clash of arms between the two hurdling titans, the quick-thinking Brits placed Aries Merritt right in the middle of the two!

Deja Vu: 2010 World Juniors 110m High Hurdles Final

My initial reaction after seeing Liu Xiang 刘翔 and Dayron Robles make contact at that controversial sprint hurdles final last night was one of sympathy for the two hurdlers. Stuff like these happen all the time in the hurdles.

A good example is the 110m high hurdles final of last year’s World Junior championships. The United States’ Caleb Cross was leading the race until the fast-finishing Pascale Martinot-Lagarde caught up at the ninth hurdle. Lagarde was running in lane eight, with Cross in lane seven, similar in circumstances to the Daegu sprint hurdles final.

Cross lost his rhythm for a split-second. As he dropped out of the lead, Lagarde, Jack Meredith and Vladimir Vukicevic overtook the erstwhile leader. Like Robles, Lagarde immediately apologized to Cross after the race. The Frenchman wasn’t happy with the unintentional contact, but then again, such occurrences are part of the high hurdles.

Cross and Lagarde both led with their right legs. But Cross, being a raw junior athlete, still displayed a wildly flailing trail arm (his right arm). Cross’ upward-jerking trail arm was bound to hit Lagarde’s lead arm (his left) – which swung at a wide “C” – at some point in the race.

Daegu 2011 110m High Hurdles Final: Controversial

Dayron Robles was well ahead of everyone when the gun fired.Towards the latter parts of the race, Liu Xiang 刘翔 caught up, with Jason Richardson trailing closely behind. As the fast-finishing Liu cleared the penultimate hurdle, Robles’ lead arm (right) accidentally swiped Liu’s trail arm (left). The Chinese gets off-balanced because of the contact, causing him to lose his rhythm in between the barriers (a crucial mistake since Liu was gaining!). Then it happened again over the tenth hurdler.

Click here to view the results

The Cuban (13.14s) padded his lead over Liu (13.27s) as Richardson (13.16s) overtook the Chinese for silver. As Liu sprinted the last 14.02m to the finish line, he was glaring at Robles. The contact visibly irked the 2004 Athens Olympic Gold medalist.

Having been a keen observer of Liu Xiang’s technique since 2002, I’ve noticed that he tends hug at the left-most section of his lane (never veering off the designated lane of course). Never since 2002 have I seen Liu hit another hurdler because of the aforesaid preference. As Liu closed the gap between him and Robles, some contact was bound to occur in an event like this. (since a sprint hurdler’s lead arm swings widely, as the lead leg snaps down). Contact between sprint hurdlers is common.

Initially, I was defending Robles, saying that the contact was accidental. Come to think of it, would a sprint hurdler hurtling at full speed over 1.067m high barriers even bother to grab a competitor’s arm? The high hurdles entail an uncanny level of concentration. Such a deplorable action would surely break one’s rhythm. This merited a closer examination of the slo-mo clips.

Liu and Robles were almost abreast when they cleared the eighth hurdle (which Robles clipped. Take note in the photo below that Robles right arm swings normally.

With Liu breathing down Robles’ neck, the Cuban’s lead arm swung a little higher, hitting Liu’s arm in the process. Was this deliberate? I don’t think so (Liu and Oliver also opine that the contact was unintentional. See the quotes below). Perhaps the pressure of a head-to-head duel somehow tensed up Robles (he did clip the seventh hurdle). Like I said, grabbing someone’s arm was probably the last thing on Robles’ mind at this point.

Both athletes lost their balance, as a result. The sideways movement was more apparent in Liu. With Robles veering into the right side of his lane, a more forceful contact was made between Robles’ widely swinging right arm and Liu’s trail arm, impeding the latter.

China then filed a protest, with Robles getting disqualified to obstruction. Cuba reacted with its own counter-protest, but this apparently was also thumbed down by the officials. With this development, Richardson and Liu were elevated to gold and silver, respectively. Briton Andy Turner (13.44s) climbed to bronze.

In my opinion, it wasn’t so much because of the clash of arms that got Robles disqualified. hell, hurdlers do this all the time (especially the ones with the flailing arms). The fact that his arms veered into Liu’s lane as it made contact was the most probable cause.

I’d rather wait for these emotions to die down – and for the official reports to get published. Although I’m a hardcore Liu Xiang fan, a disqualification is a harsh move, in light of the nature of the discipline. I’d love to hear the official statements of both Liu and Robles to put some light into the controversy.

As an athlete myself, I’d hate to win by a technicality. I’d rather win on the merits of my running, not because of a rule book.

I’ve watched the clips countless of times the past hour. Robles’ actions after the race imply that the contact was unintentional. As Robles crossed the finish line, he put his hand to his forehead in an apparent act of frustration or regret. He slowed down abruptly (instead of running all the way to the curve as victors of the 110m usually do) to hug Liu, in an apparent gesture of apology.

David Oliver: “People who think Robles did it on purpose are crazy and haven’t seen his races, late in races he’s been getting wide with his arms. Hitting that 8th hurdle just made it worse and why would you do something intentionally that us going to mess you up as well.”

Andy Turner: “‘I want to cry, but I don’t want to cry – I didn’t want to win a medal by default, but I have won a World Championship bronze medal and I’m over the moon with that.”

Liu Xiang: “Robles hit me twice, at the ninth hurdle he pulled at me but I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. I lost my balance when I came to the 10th hurdle because of the bump. If not for the incident, I would have been the gold medallist.”

Jason Richardson: “Whatever reward I get from doing my best, I will accept. If it’s gold, silver or bronze, it doesn’t matter.”

Daegu 2011 110m High Hurdles Heats Recap

There were hardly any surprises after the 110m high hurdles heats. The defending champion from Barbados, Ryan Brathwaite, took an early ignominious exit (13.57s). But then again, his 2011 has been less than inspiring.

The trio of Liu Xiang 刘翔 (13.20s), Dayron Robles (13.42s) and David Oliver (13.27s) made it through, but it was Jason Richardson who topped all qualifiers with his 13.19s time. I’d have to say that both Liu and Robles look in-form, as they practically jogged through the heats. Oliver, in contrast, was a tad tense (well, he always hurdles that way).

The semis are scheduled at 7:00 PM Daegu time, with the finals being held at 9:25 PM.

My fearless forecast still sticks: Liu Xiang for gold and Dayron Robles for silver. Expect Richardson and Oliver to figure in a tight battle for bronze. Casting aside (momentarily) my obvious bias for my idol Liu Xiang, picking a someone amongst the stellar cast is a difficult task.

Read more of this post

Early Afternoon Hurdling Thoughts

My hand-timed 14.9s in the 110m high hurdles (and my automatically-timed 15.52s) don’t stand for peanuts in the world scene. In the Philippines, these are modestly respectable times, but once I step out of my comfort zone, a slew of sub-15 and sub-14 hurdlers abound. Hence, I’ve often wondered what it feels like to run 14 seconds or 13 seconds. I’m not even talking about the crazy fast times of Liu Xiang 刘翔 and Dayron Robles (although in my constant day dreams I compete with those guys head-to-head!). In a sense, watching Southeast Asian-level or mid-tier elite athletes paint an achievable picture.

During last summer’s Philippine National Open, Malaysia’s Wan Sofian Rayzam Shah ran practically unopposed, notching an easy low-14 second win. I was awestruck at his sheer speed in between hurdles. He clears the hurdle with little wasted motion. With a personal best of 13.91s, no Filipino hurdler can match up with the 2007 SEA Games gold medalist.

For some reason, I was unable to find the 2007 SEA Games hurdles video. The next best thing was the 2010 MAAU video uploaded by Jad Adrian, a Malaysian sprinter. From the vantage point of the computer screen, Rayzam didn’t seem as fast. His hurdle clearance and arm-action are top notch, but he seems to float over the hurdles. And his lead leg seems to lock in midair. Rayzam stopped the clock at 14.19s, two-hundredths of a second off his personal best.

In the video suggestions tab in Youtube, I saw a hurdles clip from the 2009 Francophone Games. I clicked the thumbnail, and witnessed the Canadian hurdler Jared MacLeod outclass the competition with a 13.56s clocking. It was more than half-a-second better than Rayzam’s time. That being a mid-13 performance, the difference in speed and rhythm was evident. MacLeod was actually sprinting in between barriers, with nary a pause with each hurdle clearance. But still, he lacks the visible lead leg and trail leg snap and the saber-like lead arm of Liu.

Read more about MacLeod’s interesting hurdles journey here

MacLeod, being a World Championship semi-finalist, is leagues away from Rayzam.

Although I absolutely love watching the cream of the crop of the sprint hurdles compete, I’m also fascinated by the less popular athletes. Watching the likes of Rayzam and MacLeod removes the mystic aura so strong amongst the hurdling elite. They may not be in the same level as Liu, Robles and David Oliver, but for this 15-second hurdler, I look to Rayzam and Macleod with much envy!

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.

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