Men’s 110m High Hurdles All-time Greats

So I’ve revised the All-Time Greats list for the men’s 110 meter high hurdles once again, this one being the second revision of the initial list. This time, I’ve tried to make it more objective by listing specific criteria and using a 1-10 point system. Trust me, I know that this type of thing is still very subjective, but hey, nothing in life is black and white, so you’re always welcome to disagree with my assessments and analysis.

The criteria I chose for creating the list include the following, with all having equal weight:

1. Olympic medals won
2. Other major championship medals won
3. How far the athlete advanced the event in terms of world records and technical innovations
4. The athlete’s longevity (performing at a very high level for a very long time)

  • For Olympic medals, the A-standard (10 pts) consists of two gold medals.
  • For other major championship medals, the A-standard (10 pts) consists of three World Championship gold medals for hurdlers who competed from 1983 to the present. For those from the old school, AAU championships, NCAA championships, and any international competitions (Pan-Am Games, US vs. USSR, etc.) factor in.
  • For advancement of the event, setting a world record and setting new standards for technical mastery comprise the A-standard (10 pts).
  • For longevity, being a top-ten hurdler in the world for ten years or more is the A-standard.

Based on those criteria, here are my picks for the top ten hurdlers of all time, counting down:

At tenth I have Dayron Robles. I gave Robles a 9 for Olympic medals because of his dominant 2008 victory in Beijing. I gave him a 5 for WC medals because he hasn’t medaled at any WC in his career, usually due to injury, and this 5 here is the reason he isn’t much higher on the list. For advancement I gave him a 9 for breaking Liu Xiang’s world record with a 12.87, which is the current world record. I gave him a 7 for longevity because he is still in the prime of his career and hasn’t put in the volume of races of the other hurdlers on this list who scored higher in this category. Robles’ total score is a 30 out of a possible 40.


At ninth I have Greg Foster. I gave him a 6 for Olympic medals, having won a silver at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. I gave him a 10 for World Championship medals, as he won three in a row – 1983, 1987, and 1991 – back in the days when the WC’s were held only once every four years. Had they been held every two years like they are now, he likely would have won more. I gave him a 6 for advancement, since he never held the world record, and never ran under 13.00. Technically he was solid and consistent, but not innovative. I gave him a 10 for longevity, since he competed at a very high level from the late 1970’s all the way through to the early 1990’s. Foster’s total score is a 32.





At eighth I have Liu Xiang. I gave him a 9 for Olympic medals due to his dominant win in 2004. I gave him a 9 for WC medals because of his 2003 victory. I gave him a 9 for advancement because of his 2006 world record, and also because of his supremely efficient hurdling technique. I do feel that Xiang’s style is quite innovative, because of his ability to “jump” into hurdling position and raise his trail leg very high as soon as it leaves the ground. Most hurdlers allow their trail leg to lag, and will then whip it up and in front. Xiang’s style, in that sense, is quite innovative, and highly successful. I gave Xiang a 5 for longevity, and this is the criterion that drops him from what would obviously be a higher rating. His injuries over the past several years have prevented him from performing at a championship level, and only this past summer, in 2010, did he begin to show signs of his former self. Xiang’s total score then is also a 32, but I gave the nod to him over Foster because of the Olympic gold medal.



At seventh I have Roger Kingdom. I gave him a 10 for Olympic medals, as he is one of only two hurdlers to ever win two Olympic golds. The fact that only two athletes have done it pretty much explains just how difficult a feat it is. I gave him a 5 for WC medals because Kingdom always seemed to disappear in WC years due to injury. I gave him a 9 for advancement since he set a world record in 1989. I gave him an 8 for longevity; he had a long career among the world’s best – from 1983 or so to 1995, when he won the US Nationals, before going on to win a bronze medal at the World Championships that year. Even with that bronze, I can’t give him more than a 5 for WC medals just because of the level of accomplishment of all the athletes on this list. But getting back to longevity, the 8 would be higher if not for injury, but he did miss entire seasons. So even though he did rank among the world’s best for many years, there were also years in there where he didn’t rank at all. Kingdom’s total score is a 32, but I gave him the nod over Xiang and Foster because of the two Olympic golds.




At sixth I have Lee Calhoun. I gave him a 10 for Olympic medals because he was the first hurdler ever to win two Olympic gold medals – in 1956 and 1960. I gave him a 9 for other major championships (no WC’s back in those days). Calhoun was a two-time NCAA champion (1956 and 1957) and three-time AAU champion (1956, 1957, 1959). I gave him an 8 for advancement. His 13.2 in 1960 tied the world record, but he never owned it outright. I gave him a 6 for longevity because the Rome Olympics basically marked the end of his career. Back in those days, there was no such thing as professional track and field, so to continue competing pretty much meant staying broke. Calhoun’s total score is a 33.





At fifth I have Renaldo Nehemiah, although I always did, do, and always will feel he is the greatest hurdler who ever lived. I gave him a 5 for Olympic medals for the simple fact that he never competed in an Olympic Games, although he would’ve almost certainly won gold in 1980 if not for the US-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics. I gave him a 10 for major championships, since he dominated the event from 1979-1981. I gave him a 12 for advancement; he gets two extra credit points for breaking the world record three times, while no one else did it more than once. He was also the first to run an official time under 13.00. No one in the history of the 110 hurdles advanced the event as far and as fast as Nehemiah did. And from a technical standpoint, he took the concept of running over the hurdles (as opposed to three steps and a jump) even further than his predecessor and hero Rodney Milburn. I gave Renaldo a 6 for longevity. He missed his prime years after deciding to play pro football after the 1980 boycott, but he did come back and run at a world-class level for another three years or so in the late 1980’s. Nehemiah’s total score is 33. I give him the nod over Calhoun because I feel the three world records and the first sub-13.00 slightly trump the two Olympic gold medals.




At fourth I have Colin Jackson. I gave him a six for Olympic medals: no golds and one silver (1988). I gave him a 9 for WC medals: two golds (1993, 1999), a silver (1997), and a bronze (1987). I gave him a 9 for advancement. He broke Kingdom’s world record of 12.92 with a 12.91 in 1993. He was also one of the best technicians in the event’s history. I gave him a 10 for longevity. Like Foster, he had a very high level of success for a very long time – about fourteen or fifteen years. Jackson’s total score is a 34.






At third I have Willie Davenport. I gave him a 9 for Olympic medals because of his gold medal in Mexico City in 1968; he also won bronze in 1976 in Montreal. For other major championships I also gave him a 9. Before Rodney Milburn came along, Davenport was winning most major domestic and international competitions. For advancement I gave him a 9. He held the world record for three years before Milburn broke it in 1972. For longevity I gave him a 10. His career spanned a good twelve years in an era when track athletes rarely lasted that long. Davenport’s total score is a 37.






At second I have Rodney Milburn. I gave him a 9 for Olympic medals, based on his gold medal in Munich in 1972. I gave him a 10 for other major championship medals for his numerous victories in AAU, Pan-Am, NCAA and everything else competitions. I gave him a 10 for advancement because of his 13.24 world record at the Munich Olympics – a record that lasted for five years. Also, Milburn ran numerous 13.0’s (back in the days of hand-timing) in an era when such times were very rare. From a technical standpoint, Milburn, along with his coaches, came up with two major innovations – the double-armed lead and the dime method approach. The double-armed lead was a power move in which he pushed both arms forward while attacking the hurdle instead of just the lead arm. The dime method was a practice technique in which his coach would place a dime on the hurdle, and Milburn would try to clear the hurdle by skimming the dime while not hitting the hurdle. These innovations led to him being the first hurdler to truly sprint between the hurdles while skimming the crossbars. Prior to Milburn, the space between the crossbar and the hamstring was much greater than it was afterward, to the point where it could be claimed that all modern hurdlers are descendants of the basics of his technique. I gave him a 9 for longevity, although this could’ve easily been a 10. The 9 was based on the “lost years” that he spent running “professionally” for the International Track Association in the mid-70’s, and then the two years he spent away from competition after the ITA folded and he was waiting to be reinstated for amateur competition. Upon returning, he had four very good years (1980-1983)  before retiring. Milburn’s total score is a 38.

At number one I have Allen Johnson. I gave him a 9 for Olympic medals because of his gold in Atlanta in 1996. I gave him an 11 for WC medals; he gets one extra credit point here for being above the A-standard of three WC golds. Johnson won four (1995, 1997, 2001, 2003), and also earned a bronze in 2005. I gave him an eight for advancement; he never broke or tied the world record, but he was the standard of excellence throughout most of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. While not really an innovator technically, he became a technical master later in his career. I gave him a ten for longevity because, like Foster and Jackson, Johnson’s career at the top level spanned more than a decade. Johnson’s total score is a 38, but I gave him the nod over Milburn because, overall, Johnson was a more technically-efficient hurdler, he ran under 13.00 11 times (the most of any hurdler in history), and because he finished fourteen seasons among the top ten in the world.





Among currently competing hurdlers, I think it would be safe to assume that if Robles continues along the path he is on, he will rise much higher in the standings within the next couple years. Same with Xiang, if he can return to full health. Also, David Oliver’s 2010 season was one for the ages, but he doesn’t have the championship gold medals, nor the longevity yet, to make the list. Terrence Trammell has the longevity that Oliver lacks, but also lacks the gold medals that would make him top-ten-of-all-time worthy.


© 2010 Steve McGill

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