World Athletics Podcast - hurdlers special
Renaldo Nehemiah, Allen Johnson, Aries Merritt and Grant Holloway recently came together virtually for a special 110m hurdles edition of the World Athletics podcast.
The four US hurdling stars had overlapping careers with Nehemiah leading the way. Back in 1981 he became the first man to break 13 seconds in the 110m hurdles, clocking a world record of 12.93 that stood for eight years.
“Today’s athletes come in with the mindset that they can run fast – or at least as fast as I ran,” said the four-time US champion. “During my era, that elusive 13-second barrier wasn’t even a thought. But today, thanks to the likes of Allen Johnson and Aries and now Grant, more people believe it’s achievable, so I love that.”
In the early 1990s, just as Nehemiah’s career was coming to an end, Johnson’s was just getting started. He recalls watching Nehemiah race in his hometown.
“I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, where they used to have the Mobil meet,” said Johnson, a four-time world champion in the 110m hurdles. “I remember back in 1987 I had a front-row seat near to the first hurdle. Renaldo was there running and that was neat.
“I came up through the sport watching Renaldo and Greg Foster and Roger Kingdom. It was just understood that the Americans were going to dominate the hurdles, so if you wanted to be the top US guy, you had to be ready to be the top guy in the world.”
Johnson and Merritt raced several times between 2005 and 2009. Merritt went on to win Olympic gold in 2012, something he recalls seeing Johnson do 16 years prior.
“It was like a dream come true racing Allen,” said Merritt, the world record-holder. “I’d looked up to Allen since 1996. I didn’t even know back then that I was going to be a hurdler, but I remember watching him win Olympic gold in Atlanta and I told my mom that I wanted to do that.
“In the era I ran against Allen, there were several other guys around the world running fast,” added Merritt. “We had Dayron (Robles) running well, and Liu Xiang just seemed extraordinary. I remember studying Liu’s race, I studied Allen’s race. I also studied Renaldo’s trail leg mechanics and that’s pretty much how my technique was born.”
Merritt not only inspired Holloway, but he also became a mentor to the 23-year-old, who in 2019 won the world title and earlier this year broke the world indoor record.
“Not to make everyone feel old, but my last year of high school was 2016,” Holloway said with a laugh. “I was taking eight steps to the first hurdle back then, but when I got to campus at the University of Florida, I told coach (Mike) Holloway that I wanted to do seven steps. I’d regularly watch videos of all these great hurdlers, and the seven-step approach was big. It was a struggle to begin with, but it takes time and consistency.
“I’ve had the privilege to not only run against Aries but also reach out to him and ask him to watch my films,” added Holloway. “He’s been there as a mentor for me. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface.”