With some discussion on the first hurdle creating some interesting discussion, of lot of conclusions and misconceptions are based on incomplete information. Race data with video interpretation and athlete feedback is necessary to get the full picture. What we can conclude is that world class touchdown times from hurdlers is far different than first ten meters with regular athletes, such as NFL athletes. The reason is any good athlete can sprint for 15m, but not everyone can hurdle over one hurdle fast without some coaching. While some can run and just kick over the barrier and set a 15m hurdle world record but most hurdlers realize that they are running a whole race and make arrangements in the race to have a best time or total performance.
So interpreting 110m hurdle races one should look at all of the touch downs or hurdle cycle splits. I think we all agree on that. My problem is that the hurdle three myth of evaluating performances is not the best way to evaluate the interaction of hurdle one. For example, if David Oliver had a better reaction time in Doha, he could have been the World Record Holder until Merrit’s performance. Having a good reaction time consistently is an advantage, not a disruption to the race later or automatic impairment. The most obvious extension is the fact a good run to hurdle one can actually help each consecutive split after.
Hurdle three is also influenced by hurdle six ability, as better hurdlers and faster athletes tend to make progress here, not because hurdle one being fast is some sort of curse. Acceleration is very difficult to improve past hurdle three, but top splits have been found past hurdle five. The difficulty is looking at all of the spits and seeing why some are off the charts like Arnold in 2005 (sub .98) and asking why are they achieving those performances. Down the road everyone will have a complete race, so closers like Xiang can’t catch up if the entire field has evolved.
If one has a good hurdle one TD time, what is the probability of the entire race being solid? Data shows on all sub 13 races in the mens 110m no below average times exist for any races. On the other hand, having a great first hurdle (time and clean clearance) has a very high probability that the race will be a top performance (intra athlete). If one is clearing the hurdle honestly (not going to point fingers here) without contact and the time is fast, that speed echo downs the track far differently than the 100m. Many athletes tighten up trying to get out in the 100m, but the hurdles have a unique challenge as it forces to cut steps smoothly or power stride with control in order not to come up short for 7 and crash. In summary having a clean and fast first hurdle and being near 2.55 places one in place for a world class performance. I have seen outliers stay with a world class athlete for one hurdle but their touchdown contact times are so long by step 2 they are no longer in the race. The key is what is probable, meaning if you are a betting person who are you going to bet on if one gets hurdle 1 to 2.45 if they have average (but still world class) top splits in hurdles 5-8?
I never have athletes do block work with just one hurdle because I agree with Josh’s comments that one must focus on the first three hurdles to ensure that the athlete can repeat the performance and it doesn’t create an athlete from peeling out and overflow their power. When I was learning about the key to good acceleration a mentor took me to the kitchen and pulled out a drinking glass and placed it under the facet. He proceeded to put the water flow on high and the water filled up quickly but when he stopped it was 80% full as some of the water splashed out and was wasted. He slowed down the water speed just a little and the water filled up nearly as quick visibly. The analogy wasn’t perfect but it explained that applying power must be sensible and not sloppy. Still time the first hurdle as slow times are hint to poor starting ability and mechanics. Every race one has to start, so you should invest into it. On the flip side the whole pattern must be smooth, even if barriers are every ten yards.
The questions are how can good performances in hurdle one cause problems in hurdle two and three. If the athlete achieved the times because of execution of good technique, then we have a winner. It’s rare that one is going to make mistakes but have a great first touch down and set the race up for poor performances later in hurdle two and three. If someone has video of a great first hurdle (world class time) and being well executed technique wise that caused problems in hurdle two and three post video. I bet the farm and will eat crow that good technique with power equals great performances through hurdle 1-3. If one is well balanced and doesn’t just stick to going over three hurdles all year to prepare for the 110m, we should see a sound race.
My final point is that treating the first hurdle like a separate entity is not the purpose of improving performance. While causation and correlation will be debated, the goal is to improve the final time. The race data shows you must address the first hurdle now to be in the sub 12.9 club or find yourself on the other side of 13. Now that the record is 12.8 and all of the splits by Merrit are world class, one has to find the slightest of advantages somewhere if not everywhere.