Two years have passed since David Oliver became champion of the world in the 110m hurdles but as the American counts down to his title defense at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing next month, that race is now the last thing on his mind.
“I’m not a guy who lives in the rear-view mirror,” he says. “There’s a reason why, in your car, that windshield is bigger than your rear-view mirror. I just keep going forward, looking ahead and not spending too much time looking at the past.”
It’s what Oliver does best, and it’s no surprise he’s looking ahead given the roller coaster summer it’s been so far. In Manchester in May, Oliver crashed to the track at the final hurdle in what was his first European outing of the season.
Last month, he won the US title in Eugene in 13.04 and in recent weeks, Oliver dipped below 13 seconds for the first time this season, clocking 12.98 when finishing second to Orlando Ortega at the Paris Diamond League.
While on the track, little has changed, with Oliver continuing to produce the consistent, high-level performances for which he has become renowned. Off the track, though, things are different these days for the 33-year-old.
In early June, Oliver parted ways with long-time coach Brooks Johnson in what was an acrimonious and well-publicised split, but being the sprint hurdler he is, it’s an obstacle and distraction that he’s taken in his stride.
“I wouldn’t really say there’s been much of an effect,” he says. “To outside people it was probably a shocker but not to the people I had around the inner circle. Brooks was a great coach for me. Without him I never would have made it to this point in my career so that can never be taken away, but yeah, things change. You move on.
David Oliver, photo by PhotoRun.net
“It was unfortunate it had to be super-public, but I got a call from a reporter and was like ‘oh wow’, so I figured I might as well get ahead of the story so I didn’t have to deal with hearsay, speculation and all that stuff. Everybody knows what went down; it’s all out there.”
Since parting ways with Johnson, Oliver has been under the full-time guidance of former elite hurdler Aubrey Herring, who he has worked with on-and-off since 2007. “He’s somebody I trust,” says Oliver. “He moved down to Florida in 2007 to train under Brooks, and Brooks always thought him the best hurdler he ever coached. It’s no coincidence that when he came down there my career started taking off.”
Though Oliver is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable hurdlers around, coaching himself was never a consideration after his split with Johnson.
“I don’t believe in athletes trying to train themselves,” he says. “Someone ends up suffering when you wear too many hats and all l I want to do is wear the athlete hat. I don’t want to be out there trying to write a program or look at a video. I’m not interested. You just tell me what to do and I’ll follow the plan.”
Despite delegating his coaching duties, Oliver remains eternally self-critical when it comes to analysing his races. Even in victory, his tendency is to find the flaw, seeking out the margin for improvement.
“I watched the US final race and there were so many mistakes,” he says, “so much wrong, and I was still able to run a good time. You just have to keep working non-stop at this.”
A week after the US Championships, Oliver finished second in Paris and though his time of 12.98 was a season’s best, he was frustrated with the run. “I’m very disappointed. The time was okay, but when you lose, no matter what happens, it’s never a good feeling,” he said.
“I got beat. I came off hurdle 10 and had a stumble which cost me the race. The time is not a consolation; this sport is all about winning and losing and I wasn’t able to get it done.”
In Beijing, Oliver must overcome a field loaded with quality if he is to retain his title. Few events in athletics rival the 110m hurdles for depth and with so little separating the top athletes, Oliver is aware of how fine the margins will be between defeat and victory.
“You go to the line and nobody has a clue who’s going to do what,” he says. “There’s no such thing as favourites. You have 12 opportunities – the start, finish and 10 hurdles. You can get it extremely right or get it extremely wrong.”
In Moscow two years ago, Oliver got it extremely right, taking his first world title in 13.00, but like he says, that race in the rear-view mirror now. Looking ahead to Beijing, he wants more of the same.
“All I have to do is be healthy and I feel like I give myself a great shot,” he says. “It’s not about resting on your laurels or living in the past. You have to keep striving for more and more.
“I have an insatiable appetite when it comes to moving forward. Nothing is ever enough.”