The sprint hurdles is athletics' most chaotic spectacle. Victory can turn into defeat with the merest clip of a barrier. But when Jasmin Stowers competes, she feels a sudden sense of calm amongst the clatter. After a season of high drama, the US athlete tells us she’s ready to compete her own way.
Jasmin Stowers will not forget 2015 in a hurry. As well as the world leading performances, a trio of wins on the Diamond League circuit and her number two ranking, she also experienced technical melt downs, a brain-freezing disqualification and an untimely bout of cramp which left her World Championship dreams in tatters.
So when the softly-spoken Stowers reflects on her year as “a learning experience,” the 24-year-old Louisiana-based athlete is not kidding.
“I still ran fast. I just need to keep up that momentum and focus more, knowing track will have its ups and downs,” says Stowers, whose 12.35 clocking to win in Doha in May ranks her the eighth quickest 100m hurdler in history.
Born in Eschenbach, Germany, where her father was stationed with the US Army, Stowers spent the first two years of her life in Europe before her family settled in Anderson, South Carolina. Aged 11 she started hurdling and showed an immediate talent.
She secured a string of high school state titles and aged just 15 placed fourth in the 100m hurdles final at the 2007 World Youth Championships – two places behind Jamaican Shermaine Williams, older sister this year’s sprint hurdles world champion Danielle Williams.
Stowers (R) competing as a collegian at the 2014 USATF Outdoor Championships, where she finished fourth
After finishing her impressive high school career in the fall of 2010, Stowers selected Louisiana State University for the next stage of athletic development because of its “outstanding track programme” and also for the presence of the then world indoor 60m hurdles champion Lolo Jones.
“Looking at Lolo I saw what it took to be a professional athlete,” admits Stowers, who, like Jones, is coached by Dennis Shaver.
She found the first semester tough. She was encouraged to lose weight so ditched the gummy bears and cut back her portion sizes. This, accompanied with a few technical tweaks, saw her personal best drop by more than half-a-second to 12.88 in 2011, her freshman year.
A “consistent” sophomore year followed, but a hamstring injury marred her development in 2013. Last year she further hinted at her potential by running a wind-assisted 12.54 to bank silver at the NCAA Championships and placing fourth at the US Championships, notching a legal PB 12.71 along the way.
After turning pro in 2014, the nutrition and food sciences graduate made her Diamond League debut in Glasgow – finishing fifth – and returned to winter training determined to achieve more. She also resolved to work on her abs.
“I saw that so many pro athletes were tight fitted and I wasn’t,” she admits. “So I started 250 ab reps per day [😳]. I realised the abs are a big part of any athlete’s profession. It is core and by developing the abs I have gotten stronger.”
Stowers believes her steely abs have aided her speed out of the blocks. With the help of Coach Shaver she has also worked on stabilising the motion in her lead arm while going over the hurdles. These adjustments started to bear fruit during the 2015 indoor season, as the Baton Rouge-based hurdler posted four PBs, bottoming out with a 7.84 to bag the US 60m hurdles title in Boston.
She opened her outdoor campaign with a windy 12.54 in Baton Rouge. Then, at Drake Relays in Des Moines, she was “surprised” to lodge a stunning PB 12.40. In Kingston, Jamaica, a “little nervous” and keen to back up that performance, she trimmed a further 0.01 from that time and then in her Diamond League opener in Doha blitzed to 12.35, defeating a world-class line-up which contained Sally Pearson and Dawn Harper-Nelson – the last two Olympic champions.
Yet she couldn’t maintain that blistering early season form. In Rome she clipped a hurdle, lost her balance, and ran through to place seventh in more than 25 seconds. In her next Diamond League outing in Birmingham she was DQd for a false start.
Nonetheless, she went into the US Championships as the world’s number one ranked athlete. After comfortably winning her heat in a windy 12.47 and semi-final in 12.54, she picked up an untimely bout of calf cramp warming up ahead of the final.
“It was the first time I had ever had cramp before,” admits Stowers. “It could have been because I was not hydrated or because of nerves.”
Whatever it was, it proved terminal to her chances of booking a ticket for the World Championships in Beijing. Competing in pain and “buckling” after each hurdle, she wound up fifth in a super-tight race in 12.65 – 0.10 behind race winner Harper-Nelson and 0.06 behind a top three spot.
The disappointment hit her “pretty hard”. She had simply expected more. Priorities suddenly changed, and the next challenge was to refocus and finish the season strongly.
#AbsForDays – with Coach Shaver and training partner Lolo Jones
To an extent she achieved that. While not quite matching her early season form, she won the London Diamond League in 12.47 – into a 1.2m/s headwind – and claimed top threes in Lausanne and Brussels.
When Stowers puts together a performance to match her talent, she has shown that not even the most decorated athletes on the planet can live with her. Nonetheless she is a nervous bunny by nature, and admits to suffering with self-doubt ahead of each race. But as soon as the starter's gun fires her fears vanish.
“It feels like the air has lifted off me,” she says. “It becomes a calm place.”
After a roller coaster season, Stowers heads into winter training resolute about how she can get to that calm place and achieve success in the forthcoming Olympic year.
“I felt like I lost my focus and a lot of people thought they knew about the way I should run. What the year taught me was not to worry about what other people think. I know how I should run and I need to focus on what is best for me.”