A Technical Look at the World Champs 110m Hurdles

A few days ago I took a look at some technical things in the women’s 100 hurdles from the most recent World Championships in Osaka, Japan, so now I want to take a look at the men’s 110s. Since I’ve focused a lot on Liu Xiang in past articles, I’m going to focus on Terrence Trammell in this one, but will also look at Xiang, David Oliver, and David Payne. Here goes:

The above photo, which comes from one of the early rounds, shows Trammell on top of the hurdle. His technique here is very close to flawless. The trail arm is an excellent position – close to the body, in perfect position to punch back up. The lead arm also looks excellent. The elbow is bent, opening the door just enough for the trail leg to pull through. The elbow is a tad bit higher than I would prefer; were it a little bit lower, it would really force the trail leg to squeeze through. The legs look great. The lead leg is skimming the hurdle with the knee slightly bent, and the trail leg is in good position to drive upward, though it is a wee bit wide in its upward motion. The only thing I don’t like about Trammell’s technique in this photo (and about his hurdling style in general), is that he ducks his head down. I’ve always felt that it’s best to keep the chin up and the eyes facing forward so that you can get a deeper lean from the abs and lower back. But Trammell has hurdled this way his whole career, and has run 12.95 doing it, so who am I to say he should change? Plus, he has no technical breakdowns late in the race, so if he’s able to hurdle that way for ten hurdles, then there’s no denying it’s an effective style. Hopefully, you can notice without my telling you that the hurdler on the left has awful arm carriage. His lead arm is swinging across his body, and his trail arm is pulling back in addition to being too high. The hurdler on the right actually looks pretty good. He’s bow-legged, apparently, so he’s not as off-balance or high with the lead leg as he might seem in this photo. His arms are nice and tight, his trail leg is pulling through in a tight rotary motion, and he’s got a nice lean from the waist

In this photo, Trammell begins his descent off the hurdle. The arms remain in excellent position, the trail leg is rotating nicely, the toe of the lead leg is still pulled upward, and the bent knee of the lead leg ensures that he will transition seamlessly into running motion upon landing. The hips and shoulders are facing forward, so there are no balance issues here. This is some very good hurdling.

In this photo, Trammell has touched back down on the ground. Lead leg still remains bent, with the ball of the foot bearing the weight. The trail arm has punched back up perfectly. The lead arm remains bent at the elbow, not pulling back too far nor too high. Toe of the trail leg remains up, with the ankle flexed. The trail leg hasn’t quite made it all the way around to the front, though. This is a very minor problem for someone moving as fast as Trammell. But, just to explain, you ideally want the knee of the trail leg facing the next hurdle so that there is absolutely no pause upon touchdown. Trammell’s knee is not quite there. But compare him to the hurdler to the right, who is also touching down. This hurdler’s lead arm has swung back very far and very high, his trail arm is crossing his body, and the foot of his trail leg is flaring out. His balance issues will make it easy for Trammell, who is in a very good power position, to pull away from him.

Okay, that’s David Oliver on the right. The first thing that stands out to me when looking at this photo of D.O is how tense he looks. There is a lot of tension in his hands and arms. Look at the hand of his lead arm. It’s balled up like a fist. This might be the race when he was running with a sore hamstring, which would explain the tension. Nevertheless, his angles look good. The lead arm remains very close to his body, allowing just enough room for the trail leg. The trail arm is pulled back in a manner similar to how Liu Xiang uses his trail arm. Trammell and Allen Johnson tend to let the elbow of the trail arm go out to the side a bit, whereas Xiang and D.O pull it straight back. I like how D.O is taking advantage of his height. He is looking down on the hurdle, using his upper body to push his lead leg back to the ground. The lead leg looks very good – toe up, ankle flexed, knee bent, hamstring skimming the crossbar. The hurdler on the left has good overall technique, but he’s using his arms strictly for balance – which is okay, but he’s not getting any power from them at all.

That’s David Payne on the right. If you compare this photo to the ones of Trammell, and also the one of Oliver, you can see that Payne’s technique is not as polished (even if he did run 13.02!). The lead leg is not bent at the knee, the trail leg is too high, too wide, and it’s not keeping up with the lead leg, which might explain why the lead leg is locked. Or vice versa – the locked lead leg might be causing the trail leg to hang. The lead arm is too wide, especially, again, if you compare it to the lead arms of Trammell and Oliver. I like the positioning of the trail arm. The hips and shoulders are not square though, which is being caused by the hanging trail leg. The Swedish hurdler in the middle has a great angle with his lead leg, but look at how his lead arm is driving up too high and thrusting his weight to the left before he has even left the ground.

Here’s the master himself. Most obvious is Xiang’s ease of motion, his ability to relax while moving at hyperspeeds. His facial expression in this photo is that of someone sitting in the living room watching HGTV. Look also at how relaxed his hands and the muscles in his arms are. This ease of motion explains why Xiang is able to surge so uncannily in the latter stages of races. Compare his level of comfort to that of Trammell, Oliver, Payne, and the others. His technique, of course, is flawless, to the point where there’s no point in even breaking it down. I do, though, want to compare his lean to Trammell’s. This photo shows that by leaning from the waist, and keeping the chin up and the eyes facing forward, Xiang is able to lean more deeply than Trammell, whose ducking of the head inhibits a full squeeze from the abs, and therefore ever-so-slightly inhibits the downward rotation of the lead leg. Good thing Xiang got himself well ahead of the hurdler on the right, or else he would’ve gotten smacked in the face.

© 2007 Steve McGill

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