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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

Dai Tamesue’s 為末大 Double Bronze

East Asians aren’t known for their prowess in athletics. Hence, the handful of medals that our Japanese neighbors had won in the years past hold much value. I admire Japanese track & field athletes the most because of the raw emotion that they exude. This exemplifies the very essence of sport.

Dai Tamesue 為末大 is one such athlete. As a talented 22-year old, Tamesue crashed out of the heats in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. He clipped the penultimate hurdle in the grueling 400m low hurdles. Nevertheless, he managed to finish the race in 1:01.81, much slower than his then personal best of 48.47s.

Tamesue bounced back in sterling fashion the next year at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships. He ran a gutsy race, storming to the lead early on. As the hurdlers came into the final bend, the diminutive Japanese man was the surprise leader. However the American-born Dominican Felix Sanchez and the Italian Fabrizio Mori overtook Tamesue in the final 80m.

After the disappointment in Sydney, Tamesue shed tears of joy at his bronze medal. The Japanese shaved off more than half-a-second from his erstwhile personal best, stopping the clock at 47.89s.

In the next couple of years, Tamesue failed to replicate his winning form. He didn’t go beyond the semi-finals of the 2003 Paris World Championships and the 2004 Athens Olympics. At the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, the then 28-year old Tamesue (48.10s) again struck bronze with much drama. As he shook off the effects of lactic acid after his characteristically gutsy all-out racing style, he overtook the rapidly decelerating Kerron Clement (48.18s).

Four long years after his Edmonton triumph, Tamesue once again reached the podium of a major championship.

By the time the Japan hosted its own edition of the World Championships in 2007, Tamesue was but a shadow of his old self. Approaching 30-years old, the veteran could only manage to place 6th (49.67s) in his heat.

A bronze medal in the World Championships might not count for much in terms of relative athletics greatness. But can greatness be holistically defined by medals alone? Derek Redmond became immortalized as he dramatically limped to the finish line assisted by his dad. Tamesue, albeit in a far lesser dramatic scale, is worthy of his own Celebrate Humanity moment.

Some athletes grumble at winning less than gold. If some people say that you don’t win silver, you lose the gold, what more can you say for a bronze medal? But for Tamesue, his two bronze medals exemplify the hopes of an entire nation. Tamesue, by the way he sunk to the ground in disbelief and raised his arms in triumph afterwards, is every inch the winner.

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