Raleigh, North Carolina – Like a fine craftsman, China's Liu Xiang has become the world's master hurdler because of his skill, not natural speed, former world record holder Renaldo Nehemiah says.
“He's probably the finest technician in the past 10 years,” Nehemiah, who held the 110-metres hurdles world record for eight years in the 1980s, told Reuters.
“The obstacle itself (the hurdle) is not an obstacle for him.”
Liu's near-record run of 12.87 seconds at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting in Eugene, Oregon last week reinforced that notion, Nehemiah said.
“I watched that race over and over again,” said the American athletics Hall of Famer who gave up hurdling for three years in the 1980s to play for the National Football League's San Francisco 49ers.
“He barely clipped (hurdle) number nine. He was just so clean.”
Liu would have tied Cuban Dayron Robles' world record except for an assisting wind over the allowable for record purposes.
Wind or no wind, the time still equalled the fastest ever run.
Yet, Liu is not super-quick.
“Robles has much more speed,” Nehemiah said. “If they ran a 100 metres, Robles would win seven out of 10, eight out of 10.”
But Liu's skill in clearing the hurdles brings him equal with Robles, whose record is just 0.01 seconds faster than Liu's personal best.
“He (Robles) is really quick over the top (of the hurdle), and he is tall and he is bigger, so the hurdle itself isn't an issue,” said Nehemiah.
“But Robles can make some technical mistakes as far as hitting a hurdle. He might rush the hurdle every now and then.... and get caught up a little bit.”
Liu once ruled hurdling, winning Olympic gold in 2004 and breaking the world record in 2006.
His crowning moment was to have been the 2008 Olympics in his home country, but he walked away from a full stadium, unable to compete because of an Achilles injury.
Surgery followed and the road back has been slow and painful.
But Liu showed in May he was ready for another run at Olympic gold with his fastest time in five years at the Diamond League meeting in his hometown of Shanghai.
That was just a warm-up for Eugene, though.
“Even at 2.0 (metres per second) he probably would have run 12.90,” Nehemiah said of the maximum allowable wind for record purposes.
“Liu didn't make any mistakes... He's mentally tough too.”
Yet, China's biggest athletics hope for London has learned to enjoy the moment as his highly emotional celebration after his Oregon victory demonstrated.
“He is a much different individual as far as his animation,” Nehemiah said. “You can tell by his exuberance after the race. He has come a long way as far as his confidence.”
So could Robles's record fall to Liu?
“Based on what I saw (in Oregon), yes, it could,” said Nehemiah. “It's at 12.87... he might get to 12.85.
“As good as Liu is, the only thing that could keep him from running significantly faster is his outright natural speed.” – Reuters