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A Coacher’s Life

April 15, 2015

At my new teaching job I gave the students an extra credit assignment that involved writing a one-page response to an episode of Spike TV’s reality show “Coaching Bad.” If you haven’t seen it, it features a group of about six coaches from various sports (including one track coach) and shows how they have serious anger issues and control issues and can be very abusive to their athletes. The host is former NFL star Ray Lewis, who tries to get the coaches to see the errors of their ways, and tries to get them to change for the better.

So I was reading through my students’ responses, when I came across a line in one of them in which the student referred to one of the coaches as a “very bad coacher.” Coacher? At first I thought it must’ve been a typo, but then I realized that this student, who had no athletic background whatsoever, assumed that “coacher” was the right word to identify someone who coaches. When I returned the papers I asked him about it, and he said “Yeah, coacher.”

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Good Bye Liu Xiang

April 8, 2015

Well it’s official, Liu Xiang has retired from track and field. For many of us who have followed the men’s 110m hurdles over the past decade or so, this is a very sad day, even though we could see it coming. For the past several years, injuries to his Achilles and ankle have slowed him down severely, limiting him to very few competitions.

When I look back on Liu’s career, several defining moments come to mind, beginning with his Olympic victory in 2004, when he dominated the race, defeating silver medalist Terrence Trammell by almost a full three tenths of a second. Then there was the world record race in 2006, when he ran 12.88 and Dominque Arnold broke the American record, finishing second in 12.90. And there were a whole lot of other races where Liu ran against the best and came out on top amongst the likes of Allen Johnson, Dayron Robles, and many others.

Where Liu stands in the pantheon of all-time greats is open to debate. With an injury-shortened career, he didn’t have the longevity of a Johnson or a Greg Foster or Colin Jackson. But for me, Liu’s status has more to do with his mastery of the event than with his achievements. In my eyes, when it comes to technical precision and executing near-flawless races time and time again, Liu is the best there ever was.

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Keeping the Hips Up

April 5, 2015

When people ask me about how to keep the hips up while hurdling, I usually answer that I don’t think so much in terms of keeping the hips up, but in terms of not allowing the hips to drop. There are two key moments when the hips will potentially drop if you’re doing something wrong: during take-off, and upon landing.

During Take-off:
The key at take-off into the hurdle is to stay on the ball of the foot. Hurdlers who have a background in the long jump, triple jump, or high jump will “plant” that last step, or stomp, which will send them in more of a vertical direction. In the jumping events, the plant step enables the athlete to elevate. While planting, the hips drop, and then they push back up when the athlete is airborne. In hurdling, you don’t want that vertical element in the hips. In hurdling, you want the hips to push forward horizontally, although smaller hurdlers may need a slight vertical element to ensure clean clearance of the barrier. By staying on the ball of the foot instead of planting, the hurdler allows him or herself to keep the momentum moving forward, and the hips can stay tall and keep moving horizontally as the legs go up and over the barrier.

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