Tag Archives: Javier Culson

The Legend of Felix Sánchez

When I was writing my London 2012 event previews, I had a strong gut feeling that Felix Sanchez would do something monumental. His career has undergone a renaissance the past few months, as he placed fourth in the Daegu World Championships final. Despite having a season’s best of just 48.56s coming into the Games, Sanchez had taken the scalp of 2011 World Champion Dai Greene in Rabat back in April.

In the initial version of my 400m Hurdles preview, Sanchez and Angelo Taylor were my choices for gold and silver! After all, it was anybody’s ballgame considering the fact that the tantalizingly fast times have not really come the past few years. I changed my forecasts at the last minute. Even if I knew deep down that they had an outside chance against the two favorites, Javier Culson and Greene, I had to consider what the statistics say.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 400m Hurdles”

And Sanchez did shock the world.

He breezed through the heats and sent out a strong message in the semifinals, stopping the clock at 47.76s – his fastest time since winning Olympic gold in Athens. All of a sudden, the grand old man of intermediate hurdling has regained the spring in his legs. People started to notice that the two-time World Champion could achieve what months ago would be deemed improbable.

Sanchez still had to contend with the world leader Culson, the hometown boy Greene, and Angelo Taylor – the Olympic champion from Sydney and Beijing.

As the 400m hurdles finalists walked into the stadium, that steely Sanchez determination was noticeable underneath his dark shades and his jacket’s hood. The person who had so valiantly attempted to defend his World title in 2005 despite an injury, who four years ago crashed out of the heats in Beijing, was back in contention.

Coming into the final bend, the Puerto Rican felled a hurdle, losing momentum. Sanchez kept on going strong towards the finish, ahead of everyone else in this quality field. The Dominican stopped the clock at 47.63s, the same time he had registered when he won in Athens eight years ago. The American champion Michael Tinsley (47.91s) ran the final meters like a monster, snatching silver ahead of Culson (48.10s) and the fast-finishing Greene (48.24s). Taylor (48.25s) finished in fifth place.

It was a touching sight, seeing Felix Sanchez take out the photo of his deceased grandmother which he kept inside his race bib. He fell to the track on his knees and kissed the photo of his late grandma, to whom he promised another Olympic gold.

Read: “Tears for the Second Coming of Sanchez”

Culson, the nearly-man, assumed the same position as Sanchez, this time in unpleasant disbelief. He had been undefeated this season after numerous close calls in winning the gold. A major championship title has remained elusive. Dai Greene sat on the track, shell-shocked at the enormity of the moment.

Sanchez cried tears of joy as the Dominican Republic’s national anthem played in the medal ceremony. It was a genuine display of emotion from someone who had been written off as over-the-hill.

When I was starting out in the sport back in 2003, I looked up to Liu Xiang and Felix Sanchez as my hurdling heroes. Liu had just won a groundbreaking bronze at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, while Sanchez had added a second World title to the one he won in Edmonton. My respect grew a hundred-fold when Felix valiantly attempted to defend his World title in Helsinki, despite a painful injury.

Culson and Greene are still young compared to the 35-year old Sanchez. They will have their time under the sun.

For now, the moment belongs to Felix Sanchez.

Additional Links:

Results – 400m Hurdles Final

Results – 400m Hurdles Semis/Heats

Felix Sanchez’ IAAF Profile

IAAF article on Felix’s victory

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London Olympics Preview: The 400m Hurdles

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

The 400m hurdles is one of the most grueling track & field events. The [wo]man-killer event tests the limits of one’s speed endurance. Intermediate hurdlers are known for digging deep.

Women’s 400m Hurdles

A couple of Russian women are perched on top of the 2012 rankings. The 2011 World Championships silver medalist, Natalya Antyukh Наталь Антюх, ran a world-leading time of 53.40s at the Russian Championships in Chekosbary in early July. Her younger compatriot, the newly minted European Champion Irina Davydova, is second with 53.77s.

 

Demus (L) and Walker (R). (Photos from André Zehetbauer and Erik van Leeuwen)

The reigning World Champion, Lashinda Demus (53.98s), trails Davydova in the 2012 tally. Vania Stambolova Ваня Стамболова (54.04s), Denisa Rosolová (54.24s), Georgeanne Moline (54.33s), and Hanna Yaroshchuk Ганна Ярощук (54.35s) round up the next four. The defending champion from Beijing, Melaine Walker, has a season’s best of just 54.62s – a far cry from her personal best of 52.42s personal best from the 2009 World Championships.

On paper, the Russian duo hold the edge over the rest of the field. However, the list of protoganists in the 400m hurdles is a classy bunch, with three sub-53 second athletes. Jamaica’s Walker (52.42s) is the second fastest of all-time. Demus (52.47s), the American record holder, is third thanks to her gutsy run at the Daegu World Championships. Antyukh, a multiple World and Olympic medalist, has a lifetime’s best of 52.92s from the 2010 Barcelona European Championships.

 

Antyukh (L) and Davydova (R). (Photos from Chell Hill and Erik van Leeuwen)

Depending on the conditions, perhaps a mid-52 second clocking is needed to secure Olympic gold in London.

It could go both ways, between Demus and Walker. As reigning World and Olympic Champions, respectively, these two are the obvious favorites. Demus  might just have the psychological momentum, due to the recency of her feat.

The battle for third will be fought primarily between Antyukh and Davydova, with the quartet of Stambolova, Rosolova, Moline, and Yaroshchuk lurking to play spoil sport.

The dark horse could be Rosolova. She specialized in the 400m dash for a couple of years prior to her shift to the intermediate hurdlers. She won the 2011 European Indoor title and has an outdoor personal best of 50.84s. Rosolova is the greenest among the lineup, however, with only six or seven outings in the 400m hurdles.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Lashinda Demus

Silver: Melaine Walker

Bronze: Natalya Antyukh/Irina Davydova

Men’s 400m Hurdles

The United States has won 17 out of the past 24 Olympic Games, making a full sweep of the medals five times. The most recent sweep was in Beijing, where Angelo Taylor, Bershawn Jackson and Kerron Clement lorded it over the competition. Since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the U.S. have fallen short of the gold only once – in Athens, to a certain American-born Dominican named Felix Sanchez.

 

Sanchez (L) and Taylor (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Kerstin Winterkamp)

The 2012 event has a more multinational flavor, with Puerto Rican Javier Culson (47.78s) and Briton David Greene (47.84s) occupying the top two spots in the season top list. Bershawn Jackson is third fastest with 48.20s. The Batman, however, will not compete in his best event in London since he only placed fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Michael Tinsley and Takayuki Kishimoto 岸本 鷹幸, both making their respective Olympic debuts, trail Jackson. The resurgent Sanchez has a season’s best of 48.56s, set in the same Paris Diamond League race where Culson ran his world lead. Angelo Taylor, the Olympic Champion from 2000 and 2008, is one-hundredth of a second behind Sanchez.

  

Culson (L) and Greene (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Chell Hill)

Last season was not exactly a banner year for the intermediate hurdles. Despite L.J. Van Zyl’s spectacular mid-47 clockings in South Africa, Greene needed just 48.26s to wrest the World title in Daegu. With just two athletes below 48 seconds this season, the prospect of faster times does not seem any brighter.

But then again, one could not discount the lure of the Olympic Games. As they say, the Olympics bring out the best in athletes.

The Olympic final could feature the champions from Sydney (Taylor), Athens (Sanchez) and Beijing (Taylor, again), going head-to-head with the World Champions from Berlin (Clement) and Daegu (Greene). Clement (47.24s, 2005), Taylor (47.25s, 2008), and Sanchez (47.25s, 2003) are one of the fastest hurdlers in history.

Culson is the top bet, thanks to his above-par performances in 2012. Greene, despite undergoing a knee surgery last December, seems to be back in tip-top shape after setting a lifetime best behind Culson in Paris early this July.

I’ve always been a big fan of Sanchez. The way he fought through the pain of injury to defend his World title at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships embodied the resolve needed to win such a grueling event. I’d love to see the respected Dominican win another Olympic medal. Taylor, despite his seeming inability to excel in the World Championships, is a proven Olympic performer.

Greene and Culson might be the statistical favorites for Olympic Gold, but one cannot discount the huge experience of the event’s elder statesmen (Taylor only had a season’s best of 48.42s coming into the Beijing Olympics, but he still ran 47.25s in the final!).

The so-called old guys might spring a surprise.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Javier Culson

Silver: David Greene

Bronze: Felix Sanchez

Sources:

Beijing Olympics Results

Daegu World Championships Results

2012 Top List – Women’s 400m Hurdles

2012 Top List – Men’s 400m Hurdles

All-time List – Women’s 400m Hurdles

All-time List – Men’s 400m Hurdles

Takayuki Kishimoto’s (岸本 鷹幸) Olympic Hopes

Japan has a strong intermediate hurdling tradition. Back in the 2001 and 2005 editions of the World Championships, Dai Tamesue 為末大 won bronze medals in the grueling event. Tamesue is the only other modern-day Asian hurdler aside from Liu Xiang 刘翔 who had won medals in the World Championships.

Read: “Dai Tamesue’s 為末大 Double Bronze”

In the Olympic Games, athletes from the vast Asian continent had barged into the top three twice – when Filipino Miguel White won bronze at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Saudi Hadi Soua’an Al-Somaily هادي صوعان الصميلي snared silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Read: “Asian Sprinting – Japan’s Olympic Bronze”

While going over the 2012 top lists of the 400m hurdles, I noticed a Japanese athlete perched at the top 10. Takayuki Kishimoto 岸本 鷹幸 ran a competitive 48.41s last June, en route to topping the Japanese Olympic Trials.

This season, only double World Championship medalist Javier Culson (47.78s), reigning World Champion Dai Greene (47.84s), 2005 World Champion Bershawn Jackson (48.20s), and U.S. Trials winner Michael Tinsley (48.33s) have run faster.  With The Batman out of the U.S. Olympic Team, an Asian athlete is seeded fourth coming into the London Olympics.  On paper, at least, Asia has a legitimate contender for an Olympic 400m hurdles medal.

The 1.71m-tall hurdler was able to shave off a massive 0.86s off his personal best in a span of a little over a year, propelling himself to fifth in the Japanese all-time list. And he is still only 22 years old. Amongst the top 10 in the world this season, only Jehue Gordon is younger than the Kishimoto.

The Japanese athlete reached the semifinals in Daegu last year, albeit with an apparent hamstring injury. Compared to the likes of the other top contenders, Kishimoto’s curriculum vitae seems relatively scant. But then again, the Olympics bring out the best in people. Perhaps the young Kishimoto is destined to emulate – or even better – the legendary Tamesue’s world-beating feats.

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