World Championships Review, 2011

Men’s 110 Meter Hurdles

Before getting to the crazy stuff, congratulations to Jason Richardson for bringing home a gold medal. Richardson, who has had an excellent season in his second campaign as a pro, looked great throughout the rounds and in the finals. His 13.11 in the semi-finals proved to be the fastest time of the meet. His victory in the final was aided by the contact between Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles, but still, Richardson ran a great race. He’s got a great shuffle between the hurdles, and you have to love his fearless attitude when up against such talented opposition, such as the aforementioned Liu and Robles, and American record holder David Oliver. In every round, Richardson got out of the blocks well (he, too, is now 7-stepping), ran aggressively, ran clean races, and competed as if he felt he had a legitimate chance of winning. I remember thinking after seeing his first round race, Jason’s trying to win this thing. While conventional wisdom says to conserve energy through the rounds, I think the fact that he ran so fast every round helped him. He got into a good rhythm, he developed confidence, and he put himself in a position to win. In a hurdle race, that’s all you can do. Weird things happen in hurdle races, and this was definitely one of the weirder ones that have taken place in a major championship. But despite all the issues going on in other lanes, and despite the fact that he probably wouldn’t have won if all that contact hadn’t taken place, give him credit for running a well-executed race, and of being there to take advantage of the Liu/Robles drama.

Meanwhile, Liu Xiang never ceases to amaze me. Robles blasted everybody out of the blocks, and looked to be on his way to a dominant victory. But Liu, in typical Liu fashion, began walking him down in the second half of the race. By hurdle seven, he had closed the gap and was running side-by-side with Robles. By hurdle eight he was passing Robles. Then the contact came at hurdle nine, continued at hurdle ten. Liu fell back. Robles, the initiator of the contact, lost balance a little bit too, but managed to cross the finish line in first place. Later, he found out he had been disqualified, making Richardson the winner, Liu the silver medalist, and Britain’s Andy Turner the bronze medalist.

Two questions about Robles banging arms with Liu: did he do it intentionally, and should he have been disqualified for it? The answers are no and yes, in that order. I looked at the replay dozens of times from the head-on angle, and though it may look like, at hurdle eight, he was trying to swipe at Liu’s arm and push him back, and that at hurdle nine he did so successfully, that’s not what happened. Here’s what happened.

Robles had what can only be described as an “oh shit” moment when he felt Liu coming up beside him in the latter stages of the race. You gotta remember, Robles has never been walked down since arriving at the top of the food chain three or four years ago. This man’s start is good enough that he was able to beat Terrence Trammell – the man with the greatest start in 110 history – in the indoor World Championships last year. This man’s technique is so efficient that he never self-destructs. If he’s ahead of you at the start, he stays ahead of you.

So, that’s what he was assuming: that if he kept doing what he was doing, it’s game over. Then, all of a sudden, there was Liu, with that lead arm whipping like a windmill. It threw Robles off his rhythm. His focus wasn’t on his own lane, even if only for a split second. For that split second – while sprinting toward hurdle eight, I would guess – Robles realized, “Oh shit, he’s passing me.” Then came the balance issues which led him to bang Liu’s arm.

All hurdlers know that contact is part of the game. I remember being in a race where a teammate of mine elbowed me in the chest for four hurdles out of five in an indoor race, and I was so angry I walked up to him afterward and yelled, “What the hell were you doing?” There was no doubt in my mind that he had done it intentionally. He looked at me like I was from Mars and asked, “What the hell are you talking about?” He hadn’t even felt anything.

So, to accuse Robles of cheating just doesn’t make any sense. But yes, he deserved to be dq’ed. He impeded Liu’s progress. Bumped him twice – over hurdle nine and hurdle ten. That’s against the rules. Overall, it made for a disappointing final, especially seeing how this event was being hyped as one of the premier events of the whole meet. You’d prefer for everyone to run their best race and may the best man win. But like I said, weird things happen in hurdle races. Maybe next year we’ll get the race we had hoped for this year.

As for David Oliver, I don’t know what happened. I suspect that he has an injury he’s hiding. He had been struggling since the US Championships, but I was thinking that he was being cautious leading up to the Worlds. But he really hasn’t looked sharp since June. If we are to assume that there are no injury issues, then he just ran a terrible race. He had a horrible start, and when you’re chasing the likes of Liu and Robles, running from behind is a recipe for disaster. He crushed hurdle two, and that negated any possibility of climbing back into the medal hunt.

Men’s 400 Meter Hurdles

Wow. I’ve seen better awful races than this one. Britain’s David Greene’s winning time of 48.26 was the slowest winning time in the history of the World Championships, which began in 1983. You have to go all the way back to 1964 to find a slower Olympic final. I don’t know what to say. Congrats to Greene, who ran a solid race and did a great job of running off the last hurdle to catch Javier Culson of Puerto Rico.

Women’s 100 Meter Hurdles

Sally Pearson is a monster. That race was over before she even reached the first hurdle. After running a world-leading time in the semis (12.36), she dropped down to 12.28 in the final, making her the fourth-fastest female hurdler in history. She has the fastest start of any woman hurdler I’ve ever seen. She sweeps her arms rapidly and very highly as she pushes off the pedals, and she has very high knee drive on her first stride. Don’t know about y’all, but I’m gonna start tinkering with this with my athletes. Meanwhile, like Liu on the men’s side, Pearson runs a phenomenal second half. Her technique is impeccable. Other than Susanna Kallur, I’ve never seen technique so efficient.

Congrats also to Danielle Carruthers and Dawn Harper of the US, who both set personal bests of 12.47 on the way to earning a silver and bronze medal, respectively. Meanwhile, condolences to Kellie Wells, who smashed hurdle six and didn’t finish the race.

Women’s 400 Meter Hurdles

Big congratulations to Lashinda Demus of the US. She wasn’t the favorite coming into the meet, but she ran a beautiful race in the final. From the standpoint of executing a game plan, it was one of the best races in the history of the event. The time supports that claim, as she finished in 52.47, good for a new American record (breaking the old record of 52.61 set by Kim Batten in 1995), and for the third-fastest time ever.

The key to Demus’ victory, as Jamaica’s Melaine Walker was making a big surge on the final straightaway, was her ability to maintain her rhythm over the last two hurdles. After 15-stepping hurdles 2 through 8, she 16-stepped hurdles 9 and 10, which allowed her to keep her rhythm, to attack the last hurdle with her stronger lead leg, and to run through hurdle ten, giving her good momentum in the sprint to the finish line. In 2009, it was Walker who had a better rhythm through the last hurdle. This time she stuttered just a little bit. And as she made clear in her post-race interview, it didn’t help her that she was way out there in lane eight.

© 2011 Steve McGill

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