The 400 hurdles is an event where we are fortunate enough this year to have very solid and strong fields on both the men and women’s sides. Several veteran athletes, some great young talent, and a couple of hurdlers looking for redemption.
Women’s 400 Hurdles
|World Record||52.34||Yuliya Pechonkina||RUS|
|Meet Record||52.42||Melaine Walker||JAM|
|2009 Gold||52.42||Melaine Walker||JAM|
This event has all the elements necessary for an interesting final. A defending champion. A woman that has twice been runner up in the event. A former 400 meter runner looking to step up to the podium. A multi eventer who could be great here. And another former 400 meter runner looking to crash the party!
Let’s start with former 400 sprinter, Kaliese Spencer (JAM), who in her first year in the event in ‘09 ran to a 4th place finish in Berlin. This year she has emerged from the shadow of teammate and defending champion Melaine Walker to head into Daegu as the world leader on the clock. She’s had solid wins in Shanghai, Jamaica nationals, Stockholm and London. She’s only lost twice, coming 2nd to Lashinda Demus at Pre, and Zuzana Hejnova in Paris. And she enters Daegu off her stunning 52.79 WL.
She will line up in Korea against a woman who, twice has been runner up at Worlds, as Lashinda Demus garnered silver in both Helsinki & Berlin – both in fast times and with an opportunity to take gold. Demus may be the hungriest woman in town! She’s prepared for Worlds with a 4-1 season, winning in Baie Mahault, Pre (over Spencer), Nationals and Luzerne. The only flaw on her season being a runner up to Spencer in Shanghai as they stand 1-1 going into the World Championships race.
The woman most likely to challenge them for gold should be defending champion Melaine Walker (JAM). Walker has had a solid season, but has found herself consistently behind Spencer and Demus, winning in Kingston and Rio de Janeiro, but finishing 5th in Paris, 3rd in Shanghai & Pre, and 2nd in Stockholm & London. The issue for Walker in her attempt to repeat will be getting past both Demus and Spencer.
She will be joined in that quest by to very interesting women. The first is Zuzana Hejnova (CZE), a heptathlete that while competing in every event under the sun has managed to scream 53.29 over the hurdles! Reminds me of Jackie Joyner Kersee who in addition to being the world’s best heptathlete and one of the best all time in the long jump, was also world class at one time in both the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles! Hejnova is no fluke as she’s twice run under 54.00 and won Diamond League races in Oslo & Paris. She also has had 4th place finishes In Eugene and London running up against buzz saws named Demus and Spencer.
The other potential challenger is former 400 sprinter Vania Stambolova. She began toying with the hurdles back in ‘05, but seems to be taking it seriously the last couple of seasons. She ran 49.53 without hurdles back in ‘06, and this year has dropped her hurdle PR to 53.68. Running mostly “off the grid” she’s run up six wins. When she went up against the “big girls” in Paris however, she could only manage 6th. We’ll see if she learned anything from the experience in Daegu.
All that said, this should be a showdown between Demus and Spencer – 2nd & 4th in Berlin. Demus has looked good all year, is a veteran, and looking for redemption. Spencer has also looked good, and seems to be finally finding her groove in this event. Both will move well down the backstretch looking for separation from the rest of the field. The key is will either one be able to separate from the other? The remaining medal will be decided by Walker – a strong race gets her bronze, otherwise a newbie gets a shot.
Who gets gold? The woman that I think just might be the best open sprinter of the bunch – should she had decided to focus there:
|Just Missed||Zuzana Hejnova||CZE||53.25|
Men’s 400 Hurdles
|World Record||46.78||Kevin Young||USA|
|Meet Record||47.18||Kevin Young||USA|
|2009 Gold||47.91||Kerron Clement||USA|
|47.66||L.J. Van Zyl||RSA|
Where to start with this one? Let’s get the idea of a defending champion out of the way. Because Kerron Clement has not been a factor this year. He opened in Kingston Jamaica with a 2nd place finish in his season’s best – and it’s been downhill from there. Since then he was 9th in Rome, 6th in Ostrava, 5th in Lausanne and 7th in Monaco. Yes, he’s twice won this event at the World Championships, but I don’t see him earning a third. He may even have difficulty earning a place in the final.
That said, who are the contenders? In February it looked like a potential runaway for L.J. van Zyl as he blazed the track for his world leading 47.66 – while many places still had snow on the ground! He clocked the #2 time of the season (47.73) at his nationals in April, then won Doha (48.11), Rome (47.91) and Ostrava (47.66) in May. He was hands down the best hurdler the first half of the year. Since then, however, it’s been 4th place finishes in New York & Monaco, and the question is: has his season been too long or can he once again find the magic he had early on?
Whereas van Zyl was the dominant hurdler before the summer got underway, the second half of the season has seen mixed results – with no one else taking over that role. Great Britain's David Greene has had the most success since June with victories at the ETC, Birmingham and London, and a third place finish in Monaco. The only caveat to his wins is that they were average results – nothing blazing. Which makes me wonder how will do when the heat is really on.
Meanwhile last year’s #1 hurdler, Bershawn Jackson, has been a consistent runner up, finishing in 2nd in Daegu, New York, Nationals, Birmingham and Monaco – with only one win in Kansas and a 3rd in Doha – always there, but unable to close the deal this year. A good position, however, for a man that won this title in ‘05, and was the bronze medalist in both Beijing and Berlin – especially if he is peaking for the big one.
Jackson’s conqueror at Nationals, Jeshua Anderson concluded a stellar collegiate career with the NCAA title before winning the U.S. title. In his only race in Europe, however, he was well off the pace in 6th place – in his first action after a month layoff. However, he hasn’t raced since so enters Daegu on the heels of another month long racing layoff.
A man with another interesting season is Panamanian Javier Culson – silver medalist in ‘09. Culson started his season with wins in Baie Mahault and Ponce, but fell to 4th in his first tough race in Rome. He then won in New York before finishing 2nd in Lausanne, 3rd in Birmingham and 4th in Mayaguez. But he rebounded win a win in London just edging out Jackson in the last big race before Daegu. He seems to be peaking at the right time.
The final contender is Angelo Taylor (USA) third at Nationals. Taylor’s season has also been a bit different in that he has split his season running both the hurdles and the flat. Since his third in Eugene, Taylor has won the hurdles in Monaco (47.97), and run 4th in the flat in Stockholm (44.82) and London (45.04). He is the only hurdler other than van Zyl to run sub 48 more than once and to run the flat under 45.00. He’s also the most experienced hurdler in the field twice winning Olympic gold, though he has yet to win a medal in this event at Worlds.
So, how do these players flush out in the final? Clearly Daegu is setting up to be both the fastest and deepest race of the year. A fact that would favor the veteran hurdlers. The one question mark is van Zyl – did he peak too early, does he have enough left in the tank? Because most of his competition seems to just now be hitting their stride!In a race with several outstanding hurdlers, I’m going with the men who are going to push the pace down the backstretch – and the man who needs this race to complete his resume to be considered in the conversation of best ever:
|Just Missed||Javier Culson||USA||47.85|