USA Outdoor Championships Provide Much Sparkle and Glitter

My goodness gracious. Just when you thought the hyped-ness couldn’t get more hyped, along come the outdoor nationals, and more outstanding performances in the men’s and women’s hurdles. (And other events too, but who cares?). At the top of the list of amazing performances we have to put Allen Johnson, who won the 110’s in 12.99, making him, at age 34, the oldest hurdler to ever break 13.00. It also makes him the fastest thus far in the world this year, and I would go so far as to say that, in spite of his age, it makes him the favorite to win the gold at Helsinki in August. AJ’s resiliency never ceases to amaze me. Didn’t we all think that his fall in Athens last year marked the end of an era? But here he is back in 2005, hurdling as well as he ever has. He is truly a remarkable athlete. Meanwhile, Dominique Arnold proved that his 13.05 in New York earlier this month was not a one-time thing as he set a new personal best of 13.01, and the ever-present Terrence Trammell finished virtually dead-even with him in a personal best of 13.02, which is the fastest third-place finish ever. Finishing in the top three had to be particularly gratifying for Arnold, because he has been around a long time and this will be his first appearance in a World Championships.

In the men’s long hurdles, Kerron Clement continues to shock, amaze, dazzle – use whichever word you want to use, but he continues to do it. His 47.24 makes him the current world leader in 2005, puts him 6th on the all-time performance list, and makes him a legitimate threat to dethrone 2004 Olympic Champion and 2003 World Champion Felix Sanchez. Also, the fact that he was able to thirteen-step all the way around the track for the first time tells us that he is just now beginning to master the event, so his best performances are probably still ahead of him, especially when considering he hasn’t even turned twenty years old yet. In second place was Bershawn Jackson, who did not run a personal best, but did run another sub 48.00, as he finished in 47.80, qualifying for the World Championships, and thus clearing the mental hurdle of overcoming the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Olympic Games last year. Jackson, at 5’8”, is truly an amazing athlete, because even in the intermediate hurdles, it is rare to see such a small hurdler perform at such a high level. In third was veteran James Carter at 48.03, giving the USA three athletes with a legitimate chance to medal at the World Championships.

On the women’s side of things, training partners Michelle Perry and Joanna Hayes continued their ongoing rivalry in the 100m hurdles, with Perry once again emerging victorious, running a 12.66 to Hayes’ 12.77. In the semi-final round, Perry set a new personal best of 12.43. With Perry winning all head-to-head meetings thus far in 2005, it would seem that she now has the edge over Hayes, but Hayes is the Olympic Champion, and is running well enough for us to believe that, if she puts it all together, she can capture gold again in Helsinki. Meanwhile, NCAA champion Virginia Powell finished third in 12.87, after having run 12.61 in the semis behind Perry. I fully expect Perry and/or Hayes to break Gail Devers’ American record of 12.33 before the season is over, but we’ll wait and see what happens.

In the women’s 400m hurdles, Lashinda Demus finished first in a personal best of 53.35. In second was NCAA champion Shauna Smith of Wyoming in 54.21, and the third-place finisher was Sandra Glover – a seasoned veteran of the 400m hurdle battles – who ran a time of 54.62. Demus’ time makes her the 6th fastest American ever, and makes her a favorite going into Helsinki. One would have to think that if all goes well throughout the rest of the season, Demus could dip under 53.00, which would truly put her on another level. Meanwhile, we have to feel disappointed for Sheena Johnson, who, after an outstanding 2004, failed to make the World Championships, as she finished fourth in the final. Also, we have to give major props to one of my favorite hurdlers of all time – Kim Batten, the world record holder who came back after I-don’t-know-how-many years away from the game and made it all the way to the finals of the National Championships, finishing fifth in 56.17.

Finally, the most astounding hurdle performance of the weekend may have been that of former Tennessee Vol, Chicago Bear, and Oakland Raider – old-timer Willie Gault, who, at 44 years of age, ran a 13.87 in the master’s 110m hurdle race.

Just a thought: do you think Kerron Clement will get any consideration for the 4×400 meter relay for the World Championships? I doubt it, even though we all know he belongs there; those 400 guys are very protective of their territory.

© 2005 Steve McGill

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