Johnson Returns to Form In Zurich

Just when I thought it was safe to assume that Allen Johnson had officially fallen down a peg from the top tier of high hurdlers, he goes out and busts a 13.14 at the Weltklasse meet in Zurich. The time is impressive, but even more impressive is that he defeated two of the young guns who have been among the world’s best throughout 2006 – Cuban Dayron Robles (2nd in 13.20) and fellow American Aries Merritt (3rd in 13.28). Also, former training partner Terrence Trammell was in the race, as was European champion Stanislav Olijars. These days, though, no victory is considered significant unless Liu Xiang and/or Dominique Arnold is in the race. Still, Johnson’s victory and fast time, coming toward the end of a season in which he has struggled with injury and has had difficulty keeping pace with the world’s younger elite hurdlers, has to be a huge confidence booster for the event’s elder statesman. No one wants to be revered for past heroics while they’re still competing, and Johnson is certainly no exception. This race gives him concrete proof that he can still race at the highest level. Psychologically, there’s a big difference between being able to hang in there and being able to win. So, heading into the World Championship season of 2007, Johnson knows that if he trains properly and stays healthy, he can be a legitimate contender for a gold medal.

In the 400m hurdles, European champion Periklis Iakovakis won in 47.92, defeating Bershawn Jackson, James Carter, Kerron Clement, and Felix Sanchez in the process. Jackson has had an outstanding year, and will probably end the year ranked #1, but the injury bug hit him around mid-July or so, and he hasn’t been the same since. This has been a down year for Carter all year long, and Clement hasn’t shown much besides his impressive victory at the US Championships. Whether Iakovakis will be good enough to hang with the big dogs in 2007 remains to be seen, but he’s under 48.00 now, so you have to believe he’s for real. As for Sanchez, he’s been struggling with injuries for the past two years. Back in 2004, it was looking like he might achieve a level of dominance never seen since the days of Edwin Moses. But injuries have prevented him from running at top form, and new stars have emerged. It’s hard to tell whether Sanchez will ever regain the form that made him an Olympic and world champion.

In the women’s 100m hurdles, Michele Perry avenged an earlier loss to European champion Susanna Kallur of Sweden. Perry’s time of 12.65 is far off her personal best, but victories are often more important than times. Besides Kallur, Perry defeated Jamaica’s Brigitte Foster and fellow American Damu Cherry, both of whom have been among the top women’s sprint hurdlers in 2006. It’s good to see that Perry has stuck with the hurdles in 2006, as she was talking about trying the long hurdles or going back to the heptathlon. She, Ginny Powell, and Cherry are looking right now like America’s best chances for medals in 2007, and I would put Perry at the top of that list. Lashinda Demus can hold it down in the long hurdles. As a side note, I’m also glad to see that 2003 World Champion Perdita Felicien is finally beginning to look like her old self again. After a horrible crash in the finals of the 2004 Olympics, Felicien has struggled with injuries and a genuine fear of the hurdles. At the Canadian Championships earlier this summer, Felicien won in 12.64. So hopefully she’ll be making some noise in 2007.

The women’s 400m hurdles was not contested at the Weltklasse in Zurich. What kind of meet is this anyway?

By the way, Asafa Powell tied his world record time of 9.77 in the 100 meter dash. But we here in hurdle-land don’t care too much about that.

© 2006 Steve McGill

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