Robles' chance at true mastery
BEIJING -- The Beijing Olympics will be remembered for the displays of unprecedented dominance put on in the pool by
On Thursday night in the Bird's Nest, Cuba's
The anticipation of seeing China's
But the hurdles final is still must-see TV. It's a chance to see perhaps the best hurdler in history make an assault on his own world record, 12.87, which he set in June, besting Liu's 2006 mark by .01.
To understand what allows Robles to vanquish his rivals, all the while looking relaxed enough to be sipping a cappuccino, it helps to understand a basic difference between hurdling and sprinting. That's right, hurdling is not simply jumping and sprinting between barriers, otherwise the fastest sprinter would win the 110-meter high hurdles, and an athlete like Liu, whose flat 100-meter personal best is a mere 10.4, would never stand a chance. (For contrast, Trammell's 100-meter personal best is 10.04, but his best in the hurdles is 12.95.)
Hurdlers don't sprint, they shuffle. Take a look at Robles' lower half when he runs Thursday, and compare it to a replay of, say, American sprinter
While Robles keeps his stride compact between hurdles, going over the hurdles, he uses his stature to full advantage, perhaps better than any other tall hurdler in history.
And because Robles does not thrust his lead leg perfectly parallel to the ground as he passes over the hurdle, he does not need a long runway for his takeoff, and thus does not have to worry about getting crowded by coming in too close to the hurdle. Occasionally, if a hurdler gets too crowded to throw their leg over the barrier, they will either smash the hurdle, or stutter-step before they get there, which is disastrous in terms of race speed. Because Robles can takeoff extraordinarily close to the hurdle, and come down very shortly past it, he can spend a lot more space running, and a lot less space floating.
McGill noticed that, in 2008, Robles has also corrected a problem with his trail leg. Robles trail leg used to kick backward a bit as it left the ground (you can
Lastly, Robles manages to take seven steps to the first hurdle, compared to eight for just about everyone else, so he often has a lead by the very first barrier.
Taken together, Robles has the package to do something that has never been done before. After the 200-meter final Wednesday night,
He might as well have been talking about Robles.