200m Hurdles

An event that I’d like to see as part of the program for collegiate, national, and international track competitions is a 200m hurdle race. This thought has been buzzing around in my head for quite some time, so I’ve finally decided to write about it. To me, the 200m hurdles would be such a fun race to run, and such a beautiful race to watch. My proposal is that the hurdles would be set up the same distance apart as the last five hurdles of the high school 300m hurdle race, or the last five hurdles of the 400m hurdle race (which would make for a longer run-in to the finish line; that’s why I prefer the 300m marks). For men, the hurdles would be 39”; for women, they would be 33” (which means the women’s 100m hurdles would be raised to 36”, which is an issue for another article). In this article, I plan to discuss the pros and cons of instituting this event, and to provide some points of comparison in regards to non-hurdlers in the sport of Track & Field.

I feel that it has become quite obvious that the 110m/100m hurdles and the 400m hurdles are very different events, and that, the higher the level of competition, the more difficult it is to train effectively for both. I don’t know of any hurdler who has ever made an Olympic or World Championship team in both events. Andre Phillips came the closest; in the year that he won the gold medal in the 400m hurdles, he also finished fourth in the 110’s in the Olympic trials. That was 1988, as I recall. I’m sure that the best of the 110 hurdlers could have been great 400 hurdlers if they had chosen to focus on that event, and vice versa. But both? It’s almost impossible to do both. A 200m hurdle race would provide hurdlers an opportunity to double that they don’t currently have. Sprinters who double either choose to run both the 100 and the 200, or both the 200 and the 400. Name a sprinter who doubles in the 100 and 400. I can’t think of any off the top of my head. The 100 and the 400 are very different races, just as the sprint hurdles and intermediate hurdles are. So, if a sprinter wants to double, he or she has to choose the 200 as one of the races in which to double. It would be unreasonable to expect a sprinter to double in the 100 and 400 at the collegiate, national, or international level. It is similarly unreasonable to expect a hurdler to be able to do what is basically the same thing, with hurdles in the way. Just think of what life would be like if we could look forward to someone like Allen Johnson trying to win Olympic gold in the 110 and 200m hurdles, or Felix Sanchez striving to win Olympic gold in the 200 and 400m hurdles. How exciting! Track & Field is missing out on an opportunity to enhance its sport by relegating hurdlers to running either of only two events. In addition, we can’t ignore the fact that 200 meters might be the distance that best suits some hurdlers. For those who don’t have the raw speed to compete well in the 110’s/100’s, and don’t have the endurance to excel in the 400’s, 200 meters would be the perfect distance, just as 200 meters is the perfect distance for many sprinters.

One thing that bothers me in regards to this issue lies in the fact that, because a hurdler has to choose between the shorter race or the longer race, no hurdler really has a chance to be considered one of the greatest Track & Field athletes of all time. Jesse Owens ran the 100 and 200, as did Carl Lewis; Michael Johnson doubled in the 200 and 400. In addition, they ran relays (which hurdlers generally have no access to), and Owens and Lewis also long-jumped (more power to ‘em). The fact that these athletes excelled in more than one event is the reason that they are considered among the greatest athletes to ever participate in the sport. Someone like Edwin Moses, who dominated his event for over a decade, will never be argued to be on the level of a Lewis or Johnson, which is fair on the surface, but, from a hurdler’s perspective, is quite unfair. Moses ran a 13.6 in the 110’s before he stopped participating in that event. Think of how fast Moses could have run the 200m hurdles, and then think of what his place in history would be if such an event existed.

Obviously, there are some cons to the idea of adding a 200m hurdle event. So let me discuss those as well. One would be that moving hurdles around the track, adjusting the heights before races and between heats, etc., is a lot of work that can slow up a meet. Adding another hurdle race would require meet officials to either add more volunteers to keep the meet moving in a timely fashion, or to allow for the fact that the meet will be slowed down. As a hurdle coach, I say, so what. If the meet takes longer, the meet takes longer. Most meets have a “hurdle crew” that is in charge of setting up the hurdles anyway; these people would be just a little bit busier. If they know what they’re doing and are capable of working efficiently, the meet won’t last much longer at all. Another con would be the question of where to fit the 200m hurdles into the meet schedule. If a hurdler wants to double in the 200m hurdles and the 400m hurdles, for instance, how is he or she going to get enough rest between the two events, especially when considering how exhausting the 400m hurdles are? Along those lines, is it even realistic to think that an athlete could double in the 200 and 400m hurdles? In competitions that require multiple rounds, is it realistic to think that anyone could run rounds of both of those races? In most cases, no, but such is the case in the open sprints as well. Still, I do have to concede that the scheduling issue is the most plausible argument against the idea of adding a 200m hurdle race to the Track & Field program. Whether the meet is a dual meet, one-day invitational or a multiple-day championship, putting enough space between the hurdle races so that hurdlers could double in any two of them would be a challenge, to say the least.

With all that being said, I would like to see a 200m hurdle race in college meets, and beyond. It would give new life and motivation to hurdlers who struggle to choose between the shorter race and the longer race. The scheduling problems that would arise could be overcome by governing bodies and meet officials who appreciate the artistry of hurdling, who are sensitive to athletes’ needs, and aren’t just looking to get meets over with quickly. Holler if you hear me.

© 2005 Steve McGill

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