At the Millrose Games in New York City last weekend, veteran hurdler Dominique Arnold claimed a victory in the men’s 60m high hurdles over such notables as Joel Brown, Antwon Hicks, and two-time Olympic silver medallist Terrence Trammell. Although Arnold is a very powerful athlete, his primary strength as a hurdler seems to be his technical proficiency, as his hurdling technique is pretty close to flawless, with only Allen Johnson and Liu Xiang, in my opinion, being comparable to him, or perhaps, depending on the day of the week, better than him, when it comes to minimizing technical flaws. Let’s take a look at a photo from the Millrose Games and break down what makes Arnold stand out technically in comparsion to his fellow competitors in that race. If ever a picture spoke a thousand words, this would be the one. Check it out:
From left to right: Antwon Hicks, Arend Watkins, Dominique Arnold, Terrence Trammell, Joel Brown, Christopher Pinnock.
Let’s start by analyzing the lead arm. None of the hurdlers, including Arnold, have yet to actually reach the hurdle with the lead foot, but all of them have begun their dive into the hurdle. Except for Arnold, the lead arm of every hurdler is above the head. Carrying the lead arm this high gives a hurdler more thrust going into the hurdle (which can be very useful when clearing the 42’s), but it also takes more of an effort to bring that lead arm up above the head, and to then bring it all the way back down to sprinting position on the downward flight from the hurdle. Check out Arnold’s lead arm — it is well below his head, on a level even with his lead foot. Therefore, all he needs to do with the lead arm as his lead leg descends is to drive his elbow straight back without needing to bring the arm down. Arnold’s lead arm is as close to its normal sprinting position as it can possibly be while still allowing the trail leg enough room to drive upward underneath the armpit. Arnold’s lower, tighter lead arm makes for a much more efficient hurdling motion, and helps to facilitate a smoother transition from clearing the hurdle to returning to sprinting on the ground.
Now let’s analyze the positioning of the head. Of the hurdlers who have already left the ground (all of them except for Watkins), Arnold is the only one who can clearly see straight ahead to the next hurdle. Trammell’s head is facing straight down, as is Brown’s, while Hicks is able to peek upward with his eyes, although his head is still dipping below his lead arm. The positioning of Arnold’s head informs us that he is not relying on his speed or his power or his height to get over the hurdle, but more so on his strength and flexibility in the hip and groin area, as well as in his abdominals. In spite of the fact that his chin is up and his eyes are looking forward, he is leaning very deeply, even more so than the other hurdlers who seem to be leaning more, because his lean is coming exclusively from his lower back. Also, keeping the head up like that forces the abs to do more work — to contract more tightly — which is what you want. Why? For purposes of fluidity, rhythm, and the feeling that hurdling is sprinting. The goal is always to make hurdling look and feel as close to sprinting as possible.
Now let’s critique the trail arm. Nobody’s trail arm in this picture really looks horrible, but, again, nobody’s looks as good as Arnold’s. Hicks’ trail arm is up around his shoulder, serving as a good rudder for balance more than anything else, but he will need more time than preferable to get that arm back into running motion once he lands. Watkins and Brown have good-looking trail arms, but, for both of them, the elbow is pointing slightly outward instead of backward, which means that, as with Hicks, it is being used primarily for balance purposes but not will be as capable as Arnold’s to provide optimal power and thrust once the lead leg touches down. Meanwhile, Arnold’s trail arm is in the exact same position it would be if he weren’t even clearing a hurdle! Quite amazing, because it is very difficult to maintain such a “tight box,” to coin a hurdling phrase. With the hand of the trail leg pocketed firmly on the hip, and the elbow of the trail arm pointed straight back, you know that as Arnold begins his descent back to the ground, and then touches down, he will be in perfect position to continue sprinting again without the least pause in his running motion. Once the lead leg touches down, his trail arm will punch straight up the same way it does when he is sprinting without hurdles in the way. I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen a trail arm that can serve as a better teaching tool than Arnold’s in this photograph.
The lead legs that are visible in this picture all look good. Arnold’s looks excellent, obviously, with the toe pointed upward, and the knee slightly bent. There can be no doubt that he will touch down on the ball of his foot, with the hips rolling forward for a smooth, fluid transition into sprinting motion. I love Watkins’ knee action as he begins his dive into the crossbar. Hicks seems to be locking his knee, which is a style that power hurdlers, or taller hurdlers like himself, can get away with. It’s still inefficient, though, because if you lock it on the way up, you’re gonna have to unlock it on the way down. And that takes time.
Looking at this photo, it is no surprise to me that Arnold has emerged as one of the top high hurdlers in the world. He has undoubtedly put in a lot of hours studying the event and mastering the minute details of hurdling technique. You gotta love ‘im for that.
© 2006 Steve McGill