Jason Richardson, photo by PhotoRun.net
Jason Richardson is one of the most articulate athletes in our sport. He is also one of the fastest and most agile over the 110 meter hurdles. In his new training home, and with his new coach and training partners, Jason has been very introspective with Dave Hunter in this fine article.
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Finding The Way Back
Jason Richardson Works To Regain World Championship Form
March 29, 2015
In the brutally objective world of track & field, the difference – between a gold or a silver, a medal on the podium or an escort off the track, success or failure – often can be a mere centimeter or a hundredth or even a thousandth of a second. And in no event is this more evident than in the 110m hurdles where virtually all agree that the margin for error is the slimmest of all.
Now one knows this better than U.S. high hurdler Jason Richardson who has been on both the joyful and the sorrowful side of these split second outcomes. In 2011 – in many ways a magical year for Richardson – a lightning-fast interference infraction in the 110m hurdles final at the World Championships unfairly slowed one finalist, disqualified the protagonist, and resulted in Richardson being elevated to the gold medal podium position. In the 2012 Olympics 110m hurdles final, Richardson medalled again – skimming the highs in 13.04 to capture the silver medal. Yet he missed Olympic gold by only a scant 12 hundredths of a second. The following year as the defending champion at Moscow’s World Championships, he finished 4th in the 110H final – missing the podium and the bronze by a mere .03 seconds. “I have learned personally that track can turn around in a millisecond, in a heartbeat. You can go from having a moderate year to a great year. You can go from struggling to get by to having enough prize money from one track meet to pay your rent for the next 11 years. It’s crazy what one defining moment can do. But it is also crazy how a season of just trust and faith and just hoping and praying that things will work out will blossom into a solitary moment that will make you realize that everything is worth it.”
After two sparkling outdoor campaigns in 2011 and 2012 followed by two off-target years in ’13 and ’14, the native Texan relocated last fall to Orlando, Florida in an effort to once again find the spark to rekindle his hurdling career. Joining a select group of elite athletes guided by widely-acclaimed coach Brooks Johnson, Richardson is now training with reigning 110H world champion David Oliver. Having harvested new-found quickness gained from working with speed coach John Smith, Richardson hopes that technical guidance from Johnson and observational tips from regularly witnessing Oliver’s text-book hurdling style will combine to allow him to harness efficiently his increased speed in a way that will shave a hundredth of a second here and there – maybe even a tenth – from his hurdle clockings.
As a teenager, Jason Richardson tasted international success early. At the 2003 World Youth Championships, the 17-year old won unprecedented gold medals in both the 110m hurdles and the 400m hurdles. After an uneven collegiate career plagued by seemingly-constant injuries, Richardson finally captured one NCAA outdoor title in the 110H in 2008 before turning professional in 2009. “What ended up happening is that I had difficulties with injuries in college and so I was actually hurt every single season,” Richardson laments. “Invariably, I ended up shifting toward the short hurdles because an injury that knocks you out for a couple of weeks affects you less in the short hurdles than it does in the long hurdles. Luckily, I had a secondary event [the 110H] to lean into whenever I got hurt,” explains Richardson. And with a smile he adds, “So the rest is history. So now I am a short hurdler.”
“I definitely don’t have the fondest memories of college,” admits Richardson whose optimistic outlook on life wouldn’t allow him to be daunted as he headed into the professional world of track and field. In fact, the hurdler sees a silver lining in his storm-clouded collegiate track experience. He learned that the corner-cutting he took in college by relying on his enormous natural talent and neglecting certain foundational weight work and other cross training led to his persistent injury woes. “I will say that one of the reasons I was able to flatten the learning curve between college and professional was because of my experiences at South Carolina,” Richardson reveals. ” In the end, I ‘count it on joy’ because [the hard lessons I learned in college] definitely made me a better professional athlete and made me a more fruitful competitive athlete a lot sooner than a lot of my counterparts in the same age group.”
The thorough approach lesson that Richardson learned in Columbia is being affirmed by his new mentor. “What Brooks preaches all the time is that at the professional level natural talent is not the defining separator between the athletes on the podium and the athletes who are watching the championships at home. It is the professionals who have a work ethic and the desire to fire on all cylinders that make the difference at the professional level,” Johnson’s new protÃ©gÃ© explains. “Once you subscribe to that and once you accept that you will be a lot better off. I know there is some kid out there who probably will smash all of the things I did in high school and he may or may not make it because natural talent is not 100% of the formula to make you successful on the elite level.”
Recommitted to a re-engineered work ethic and eager to find ways to trim little snippets from his hurdle times, the young pro several years ago observed and soon embraced the newly-emerging 7-step run up to the opening hurdle. “The individual who really shed the most light on the ‘7 steps’ was [former world record holder Dayron] Robles,” explains Jason. “Then David [Oliver] and Liu [Xiang] began 7 steps. Soon thereafter I recognized that 7 steps was more than just a trend, it was the new approach to the start. At that point, I incorporated it into my race. From there it branched out to become the new school of thought for hurdling at this level.”
Now settled in Orlando and comfortable with his new setting, new coach, and new world class training partner, Richardson – who has thrice run 12.98 to rank T15th on the world all-time list – believes he knows what he needs to do to come all the way back. “I need to become a student of my event. I need to understand what it takes to run fast, but also to understand what it takes to keep running fast,” offers Richardson without hesitation. “There is a uniqueness in hurdling that makes it more difficult than other events. Not since Allen Johnson has there been an athlete who has been able to dominate the 110 hurdles in two consecutive seasons,” offers Richardson about the mercurial world of world class hurdling. “Liu Xiang broke the record in 2007 and was hurt in 2008. Robles broke the record in 2008 and was hurt in 2009. David was undefeated in 2010 and did not do well in 2011. Robles and I excelled in 2011. And Aries took 2012. And David had a resurgence in 2013.” And with a laugh he adds, “Hurdling is the perfect Vegas gambling event because you literally have no idea what is going to happen.”
“You have to be patient,” responds Richardson when asked when positive results from his new environment and approach may emerge. “I had two great years in 2011 and 2012 followed by two rough years in 2013 and 2014. If I have learned anything in life and in track, it is that you have to put in the work. You have to put in the work and be patient and know that your time will come. Your objective is to be prepared when your time comes,” adds Richardson with emphasis.
“A couple of bad years have really allowed me to realize the importance of diet, certain weight training techniques, and to understand more about hurdling and the event of itself, the approach to the competitiveness of a starting line, and the overall need to create the best environment for my talent to flow. So I am with a very great coach both on and off the track. So as long as I keep prayerful and do what I’ve got to do on the track, I am very excited that good things are going to come this year and next.”
Most athletes would relish the performance year Richardson enjoyed in 2011: making his first national team; capturing a Diamond League win in Stockholm; and winning the world championship in Daegu. And Richardson is grateful for that championship season. But it also drives him. 2011 inspires him to strive for that special year of event domination. “What keeps me going in track is this: of some of my competitors and some of the athletes I share some of the marks on the all-time list, I am the one who hasn’t really had the start-to-finish year that was truly ‘my year.’ There was no ‘ownership’ when it comes to 2011,” he explains. “Even though I did walk away with the world championship, it was definitely [Dayron] Robles [year]. I have no issue with that, because Robles is incredibly talented.”
“We participate in track and field because we love it and because we are exercising a gift that we have. But everybody should have this desire for a great season where they go undefeated, or where they really dominate in their event,” Richardson explains. “As for domination in hurdling, I think of Aries [Merritt] in 2012 who had the best year ever in hurdling to date. Or I think about David [Oliver] in 2010 when he went undefeated.” And with candor, he adds, “I’ve been able to run under 13 and I have two global medals. But I have yet to have a year where I am ‘the conversation’ when it comes to hurdling. So it [the quest for a dominating season] definitely is a drive. But more than that, it is humbling. And it makes you realize that there is so much you can do in track and field and that there is so much more that can be done in track and field.” And after a pause, he adds, “I know my day will come. And I think about the big season of being introduced to what it feels like to have a great year, even to have years of doing your best and running your fastest and still losing, that makes you really appreciate the sport. Those years will help me appreciate the year that will come when I win everything and really get to realize what a blessing that is.”
Jason Richardson has taken the steps necessary to create the environment he believes will prepare him to recapture hurdling success. The former world champion – just days away from his 29th birthday – is healthy, focused, inspired, rededicated, armed with newly-acquired speed, and is relating positively with his new training partner David Oliver and his new, experienced, and respected coach Brooks Johnson. As the outdoor season unfolds and discussions will inevitably be had about who may be among the very best world class 110m hurdlers in this coming year, Richardson – a multiple-time global medalist in the prime of this career and a member of the exclusive sub-13.00 second club – will almost certainly be included as part of the conversation. Now it’s up to Jason Richardson to see if he can make 2015 the year he becomes the conversation.
Dave Hunter, who ran his marathon P.R. of 2:31:40 on the highly revered Boston Marathon course back in the Paleozoic era, is a track and field announcer, broadcaster, and journalist. To find out more about Dave, please visit www.trackandfieldhunter.com
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