Updated 9 August 2008
Danny McFARLANE, Jamaica (400m Hurdles)
Born: 14 June 1972, St Mary
1.86m / 80kg
Manager: Mark Block
The only athlete since 1936 to have competed in Olympic Finals at 400m and 400m Hurdles, Danny McFarlane has benefited enormously from switching events in 2003. At the age of 36 going into the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, McFarlane still commands a place among the world’s leading one-lap hurdlers.
Although he has business interests in poultry farming, McFarlane has extended his track career after delaying plans to retire from the sport at the end of the 2007 season. He may not be done yet, even after the Olympics. If he wins a medal in the 400m Hurdles, he intends to carry on.
Should McFarlane succeed in his aim, he would then be on course to appear in a ninth consecutive biennial World Championships. He made his debut in the Jamaica 4x400m squad which finished seventh in the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart. Since then he has collected a treasure trove of Olympic and World Championships medals.
They include Olympic 400m Hurdles silver (2004), World Indoor Championships 400m bronze (2001) and 4x400m medals (two silvers, three bronzes) at five successive World Championships from 1995 to 2003 In other Olympic successes, McFarlane won a 4x400m bronze, in 2000, when he also reached the individual Final, placing eighth
“I was going to retire last year (2007) to focus on my family but I get home from the World Championships and I have just run 48.32 in the semi-finals,” McFarlane said. “I was like: ‘Man, I can’t retire running 48.32 (48.59 in the final)’.” However, he needed to secure an extension to his sponsorship first.
“I switched agent in the middle of the season last year (2007) to Mark Block and said: ‘Mr Block, talk to Reebok about signing me back’,” McFarlane explained. “And they signed me back. I was going to an option where they would decide whether to keep me or release me and they decided to keep me for one more year.
“I decided that I’m going to work hard and focus to let Reebok know they didn’t make a wrong decision. I thought if they are good enough to take me, I’m going to give them all I’ve got.” And McFarlane’s results in 2008 are hardly those of an ageing athlete. In the pre-Beijing Golden League meetings, he missed Berlin but was second in Oslo and Paris, and third in Rome. In his final sharpener for Beijing, he won at the Herculis meeting, in Monaco.
Growing up in Jamaica, McFarlane’s first sporting passion was football. “I was a pretty good football player,” he said. “I was a good striker playing for my high school but I got talking to some of my friends about running and got into it. I made it to the high school championship and finished fourth with 48.2. I was 18 going on to 19 (and playing football at the same time).”
Attending G.C. Foster College, McFarlane was encouraged by coach Maurice Westney, who trained him to break 46sec for 400m in 1993. “That was the first year I made the World Championships team,” McFarlane recalled, having finished second in the Jamaican trials that year. “The University of Oklahoma came calling and I thought: ‘OK, I’ll go to the University of Oklahoma’.
“I met this coach, a wonderful man, J. D. Martin. He was one of the best coaches I ever met. I ran 44.90 (1995) with him as my coach up to the 2000 Olympic Final then he retired.” McFarlane is self-coached these days but Martin’s influence lingers. “I put some things in it from myself but I still use most of his workouts,” McFarlane said.
Although he has not had a coach since Martin retired, McFarlane added: “What I have now, starting last year (2007), is a technical coach (Jeff Perkins). He used to be a coach at the University of Oklahoma. We became friends and he started to look over me. Now he lives in LA but when I race I call him up to ask him what he thought. The rest – setting the programme, when I train, when I rest, my weight programme, vitamin programme – that’s all on me.”
It was Martin who helped McFarlane make up his mind to switch from the flat to the hurdles. The athlete had won bronze at the 2001 World Indoor Championships, in Lisbon, but outdoors where it matters most, he hadn’t broken 45sec since 1995. “When I looked at the field, I thought: ‘If I get the technique not even 100 per cent, because I am fast and strong, I think I can compete with these guys’,” McFarlane said.
“The 400m was very competitive so I didn’t really have anything to lose.” After discussions with Martin, McFarlane’s mind was made up. “I called coach Martin and talked about what I was going to do and he said it was a good idea,” McFarlane said. Recalling his early attempts at the hurdles, he added: “I remember getting a Renaldo Nehemiah tape from coach Martin and I went home and looked at it, looked at it, looked at it.” McFarlane studied endless reruns of the former United States 110m hurdles World record holder.
By the end of his first season as a 400m hurdler, McFarlane had finished higher in an individual outdoor World Championships event than ever before. Fourth in Paris, he confirmed the wisdom of his move in Athens one year later when only Felix Sanchez, with the Dominican Republic’s first Olympic medal, denied him gold.
Given his self-coached success, it is no surprise that McFarlane lists coaching among the options for his future when he retires from the track. “When I finish, there are so many things I can do – I can go to business, I can become a coach, I’m going to invest my money in stocks and bonds, so I might not be rich and famous but I’m definitely going to be able to lead a decent life.
“I had a business going in Jamaica but I had to break off for a little bit because of a flooding incident with my farm,” McFarlane said. Some 4,000 fowl died in the flood and his business of delivering eggs to local hotels was severely hit.
“Now I am coming back on board,” McFarlane said. “We already found the land that we are going to use to get back that poultry and I am talking to the hotels that I used to distribute to and they said I would be all right.
“It was upsetting to lose the poultry but I look at life and God does things for a reason. Although I didn’t know why it happened, I sit back. I wasn’t even living off that money. I thought I’m just going to constantly run track.”
Why poultry farming? “One day it just kind of came to me,” McFarlane said. “Somebody was talking about it and I was like ‘I guess I can do that’. Because they know me a lot in Jamaica, I go around to the hotels, talk to them, and tell them I’m trying to do this business (provide the hotels with eggs).”
Asked what a realistic goal was for Beijing, McFarlane said: “I want to come away with a medal and hopefully win.” Does he think he has a chance? “I think so, I think so, I think so,” he replied, repeating as if to try to convince himself. “I honestly think I can win. I won’t be retiring if I get a medal. I’ll be asking Reebok to pick me up for one more year!”
If McFarlane can’t win the gold in Beijing, he would like it to go to 2005 World champion Bershawn Jackson, of the United States. “The good thing about Bershawn is that, out of all the hurdlers, he respects me,” McFarlane said. “We sit and talk and he’s always like ‘boy, you’re a warrior’. He likes the way I compete. He gives me that respect and I do the same to him. He knows that I can be real dangerous.”
Until McFarlane came along, no athlete since Canada’s John Loaring in 1936 had reached Olympic one-lap finals on the flat and over hurdles. “I knew that only after I had finished competing – it was a couple of days after that somebody told me, so I was like ‘whoa’,” McFarlane recalled. “To me that was impressive - that not a lot of men have done what I did. I feel honoured to be that second person.
“In this day and age, I think it is even more impressive because of the type of athletes we have to compete against. It’s way harder to do it. That is why, when I look at it, there is something special about it, which I am going to cherish for the rest of my life.”
The father of two boys - Sway and Will - by different mothers, McFarlane was formerly married to Sophia Gordon but now lives with his girlfriend, Nathale Hoilett.
400m Hurdles: 48.00 (2004)
200m: 21.17 (1995)
400m: 44.90 1995
400m/400m Hurdles: 1993: 45.82/ -; 1994: 45.74/ -; 1995: 44.90/ -; 1996: 46.23 (46.18i) / -; 1997: 45.47/ -; 1998: 45.61/ -; 1999: 45.35/ -; 2000: 45.26/ -; 2001: 45.59 (45.20A) / -; 2002: 45.66/ -; 2003: 45.72/48.30; 2004: 46.86/48.00; 2005: - /48.53; 2006: - /48.47; 2007: - /48.32; 2008: - /48.39
1993 7th World Championships (4x400m)
1994 SF Commonwealth Games (400m)
1995 SF World Championships (400m)
1995 2nd World Championships (4x400m)
1997 1st Central American & Caribbean Championships (400m)
1997 3rd World Championships (4x400m)
1999 1st Pan-American Games (4x400m)
1999 SF World Championships (400m)
1999 3rd World Championships (4x400m)
2000 8th Olympic Games (400m)
2000 3rd Olympic Games (4x400m)
2001 3rd World Indoor Championships (400m)
2001 3rd World Indoor Championships (4x400m)
2001 1st Central American & Caribbean Championships (400m)
2001 3rd World Championships (4x400m)
2003 4th World Championships (400m Hurdles)
2003 2nd World Championships (4x400m)
2004: 2nd Olympic Games (400m Hurdles)
2005 SF World Championships (400m Hurdles)
2007 5th World Championships (400m Hurdles)
Prepared by David Powell for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.