Historical hurdling gathering, from left: Aries Merritt, Colin Jackson, IAAF President Lamine Diack, Renaldo Nehemiah and Harrison Dillard (© Giancarlo Colombo)
23 November 2012 – Barcelona, Spain – In an historical first-time gathering of hurdling legends, former 110m Hurdles World record holders Colin Jackson and Renaldo Nehemiah, along with current World record holder and Olympic champion Aries Merritt and 1952 Olympic champion Harrison Dillard met with the press on the eve of the IAAF Centenary Gala in Barcelona. These were some of the highlights.
Arries Merritt (USA), World record holder (12.80), 2012 Olympic champion:
Was this the perfect season?
Yes, I think it was the perfect season, it was storybook. It’s been just like a fairy tale. I remember coming home from Brussels (where he broke the World record), and I was on the plane and all I could do was just look out the window and just laugh. I was asking myself, ‘Why does it have to end? Why is it over?’ (laughs)
On this meeting in Barcelona with all-time greats:
I don’t know if this has ever been done before, but it’s legendary. You don’t get an opportunity to sit with people who’ve done it before you, get to talk with them. I’m really excited. It’s a great learning experience for me.
I’ve learned from all of them, especially Renaldo. My coach had models of Renaldo going over hurdles. We would always try to mimic Renaldo.
Can he break the World indoor 60m Hurdles record of 7.30?
It’s pretty quick (laughs). I’ll have to get a really blistering start. I think you really have to be in 12.90 shape indoors, which is really hard to do. He (Colin) was in that shape, obviously.
How much faster can he run?
My three (past and current) coaches sat down together and they assessed my race, and they said my approach could have been a little better. And they said I kind of floated the last hurdle a little bit. So if you float a hurdle, that’s about 0.01 or 0.02.
Next year my goal is try to better what I did this year.
Renaldo Nehemiah (USA), first man to run under 13 seconds:
On Merritt’s World record:
I think it’s been a long time coming. The tracks today are made to improve performance, the athletes know more than we did at the time, and you have a more competitive nucleus of young athletes, who are very talented. Allen Johnson called me the day of the World record and told me 12.80, and I said, ‘Wind-aided, right?’ It was phenomenal.
I think 12.80 is going to stand for a while. Quite a while. I don’t think an individual by himself will run 12.7. There will have to be others there with him.
Had you not stopped your hurdles career at such a young age, what do you think would have been your limit?
I really don’t know. I ran 12.82 in Jamaica and they said the clock was broken. I ran 12.86 at the Sports Festival in Syracuse, New York, so I had run times faster than I have been credited with. I don’t know – records are made to be broken. I’m still flattered that in American football that every time somebody goes over a hurdle, they refer to me. I always thought I could run low 12.8s. Wilbur Ross said I could run 12.7. I don’t know. I was 22 when I left the sport to play America football. So one has to assume that I would have run under 12.93.
It’s nice to be from something, from a historical perspective, where guys have something that they try to emulate and then try to surpass. Colin came behind me, and not only did run faster than me, he actually beat me. I was at the end of my career but he did.
In my generation we had to be students of the event. So I was a skilled hurdler. I loved hurdling because of the art form of the hurdles. For many years after me I didn’t think people were learning how to hurdle. They were just learning how to run fast. Run fast and knocking down hurdles. So when Colin came it was nice he understood the art form. It was graceful. It was effortless. Now you have Aries Merritt doing the same thing. You don’t have eight or nine hurdles being knocked down. It’s poetry in motion.
Harrison Dillard (USA), 1948 Olympic 100m champion, 1952 Olympic 110m Hurdles champion:
On the current World record:
When I held the World record it was 13.6. Now you can’t even get to the second head with that. Times have changed.
What did he do after ending his career?
Worked (laughter). Back then we were true amateurs and couldn’t make a living running. I worked in radio, I worked in television, I had a newspaper column. Then I spent 27 years in education. Not as an educator but on the business side of it, at the Cleveland (Ohio, USA) public schools.
On coming from the same high school (East Technical High School, Cleveland, Ohio, USA) as Jesse Owens:
At the age of 13, in Cleveland in 1936, they had the parade when he came back from Berlin. I remember seeing Jesse in the back of this big touring car. And he looked down at us, he winked and said, ‘Hi kids, how are you?’ We thought this was the greatest thing in the world, that he had actually spoken to us. I remember running back home, about a quarter or half mile away, and nearly tearing the screen door off the hinges, ran in and said, ‘Momma, momma, I just met Jesse Owens! I’m going to be just like him!’ And she said, ‘Yes, son, I’m sure you will.’
Jesse was my idol, of course. We follow each other.
On his recent biography, Bones: The Life and Times of Harrison Dillard, which he co-authored:
It was released just before the London Olympics. My wife, who passed away three years ago, kept saying over and over again, ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ And I never made the time. My daughter Terry has three children, so the reason for writing the book was to leave something for the grandkids. It’s in print now, so they can see what their granddad did.
On hurdling as an art form:
When you run an event, you have two arms, you have two legs, and you have a torso. You’re doing something different with all of them at the same time. When you put all those things together and get them flowing, putting them in a position that they’re supposed to be in, you have something beautiful. It’s like ballet to me. I’ve always maintained that.
I think that hurdling is the art form of athletics. Always has been and always will be.
Colin Jackson (GBR), former 110m Hurdles World record holder
On a hurdles specialist succeeding in the flat sprint as well:
I think every single hurdler loves going into the sprints and upsetting the sprinters. (laughs). When you do better than them it does give you a really big smile. (smiles).
On setting the World record in 60m Hurdles (7.30), which still stands nearly 19 years later.
I was very pleased. It was one of those targets I had set in 1994. I wanted to do very well in the 60-metre flat but also Greg Foster’s World record for the 60 metre hurdles. And I came close on so many occasions and equaled it. And once I equaled it I saw that there were just a couple things I could fix to make it a really special record.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF