Alex Mills wrote this piece about David Oliver after David had won the Shanghai DL. Mr. Mills heaps much praise on David Oliver’s tenacity and focus in light of challenging years. Alex is writing about what most elite athletes and coaches know: you have good times and bad times in sport. Even when workouts are going well, there are times when your body can not race the way your spirit demands.
In an event as interchangeable and unpredictable as the 110 metre hurdles it is almost impossible to forecast the results or the form guide for any given year or race. You may be the Olympic or the world champion but that does not mean you’ll end the following season placing among the top ten athletes on the planet.
Not even if you are David Oliver.
Oliver may have a near perfect record since narrowly missing out on joining the event’s elite in 2005 when he finished the year 11th in the world, before making the cut on eight consecutive occasions thereafter, but in 2014, just a year after winning his first major title at the world championships, his record came to an end. The Howard University graduate had to settle for being the 13th best hurdler on the globe. As well as having his slowest season’s best time since 2006.
Almost instantly the questions started to be asked; was this the end of the world’s most consistent hurdler? Had 2013 taken too much out of his ageing body? Was it time for the old guard to move over?
All reasonable questions when you consider the facts at base level, but not when you remember what Oliver went through and overcome during that period of success. This is a man who came back from having to sit and watch the London Olympics at home after not making the US team despite then holding the US record and having been world number one in the two years previous to games, only to become world champion just 12 months later.
This is also a man that has maintained his strength and fought off adversity when two of his long time rivals Xiang Liu and Dayron Robles started to suffer from all the years that they had battled the hurdles and one another.
A bronze medallist and veteran of the Beijing Olympics, he is the only remaining athlete to have stood on the start line at the Bird’s Nest stadium on the 21st of August 2008 that has any real chance of also lining up for the final of 2015 world championships, seven years and three days later.
So on Sunday evening when things restored themselves to normal for the Florida resident, should we really have been surprised? With the stage set for another bright starlet to emerge at the Shanghai Diamond League, the two-time winner of the competition gave his all and despite crashing into four of his ten hurdles he clawed himself to victory in 13.17 seconds, making him the second fastest athlete in 2015.
At this stage of the season you can hardly ask for more, especially when things have seemingly become more about tactics than times as the margins between the competitors continues to get smaller.
Even if rising star and world leader Aleec Harris was missing, Oliver defeated almost everyone else that you’d consider to be a challenger to his chances from a US perspective and despite having a free pass to the world championships as reigning champion, you’d imagine he’d want to remain within the top three nationally this year. Especially given the importance it will have to be so in 2016 ahead of the Rio Olympics.
As for his times, I think that while it’s highly unlikely that we’ll again see him run close to his magnificent personal best, there’s a good chance that he could get close to the 13 second barrier again if he’s given the right competition. Even if he hasn’t gone under it in nearly four years.
Looking ahead, Oliver will know that younger fresher rivals will continue to trying especially hard to take him down as the last remaining star of the 2000s, and while on occasions they may succeed, you can be damn sure that they’ll have to work hard for it.
However, I think he has every right to believe that he will make the final in both Beijing and Rio, but beyond that, as his muscles get creakier and the recovery takes longer, he will struggle to go on much further or to remain as a top ten athlete, because you can’t maintain that elite level of performance forever.
Not even if you are David Oliver.