Cuba’s Dayron Robles landed the IAAF’s Male Performance of the Year for his stunning World 110m Hurdles record in Ostrava.
Extract from IAAF Yearbook 2008
Now in sprint hurdle terms 2008 was supposed to be all about Liu Xiang. The Chinese World record holder was expected to prove the darling of the Olympic Games, defend his title and deliver the dreams of 1.3 billion people in Beijing.
Yet while Liu’s tale of woe inside the Bird’s Nest Stadium has been well documented it was Dayron Robles who was to succeed the Chinese athlete as both World record holder and Olympic champion during an unforgettable year of hurdling excellence.
Robles, who had finished fourth in the 2007 World Championship final behind Liu in Osaka, served notice of the kind of shape he was during the indoor season as he blitzed to a scintillating 7.33 - the second fastest time ever for the 60m hurdles - just 0.03 shy of Colin Jackson’s 14-year-old World record.
Disaster struck, however, at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia in March. Believing that his great rival Liu had made a false start Robles mistakenly stopped running and crashed out of the heats.
Despite Robles hinting at his potential during the indoor season his outdoor campaign started in steady rather than spectacular fashion. In his season opener at the IAAF Golden League meeting in Berlin he had to settle for second 0.01 behind American David Oliver registering 13.20 and followed this up on 6 June by winning on a wet track in Turin in 13.28.
After a relatively modest opening two races few could have predicted just six days later on a sunny night in Ostrava he would become the World 110m Hurdles record holder.
The then 21-year-old Cuban (he is now aged 22) was justifiably pre-race favourite in the Czech Republic but faced powerful opposition from the 2007 World Championship silver and bronze medallists Terrence Trammell and David Payne.
However, the US duo were reduced to bit part players in what was to prove undeniably Robles’ night.
The Caribbean athlete made a blistering start and held a clear lead by the fourth hurdle. Possessing beautiful balance and poise his long stride simply devoured the ten hurdles, although he had to wait a nerve-jangling couple of minutes before he was officially confirmed as outright World record holder.
The clock inside the Ostrava Stadium initially read 12.88 - exactly the same time set by Liu in Lausanne two summers earlier - until is was adjusted to 12.87 to send the crowd into ecstasy and the Cuban leaping into the air.
Even Robles seemed staggered with what he had achieved.
“It is such a good time,” he said. “I did not expect that. Wow!
“I was ready to run under 13 seconds thanks to our excellent training so far. I felt comfortable and just focused on the gun and running as fast as possible. I saw the time and was shocked. I have been working hard to achieve things like this.”
Even Trammell, the man who finished a distant second to Robles in 13.21, appeared genuinely stunned by the Cuban’s feat. “Wow, I didn’t see that coming,” he added.
Robles later admitted he had an added motivation to perform well in Ostrava. Twelve months earlier he felt he had let down the meet organisers after finishing a distant third in 13.45 and he was determined to make amends.
“I wanted to come back here because I ran poorly here last year,” he vowed. “I wanted to prove to the organisers that I’m better than I showed last year.”
And prove it he did to become the second Cuban to break the World 110m Hurdles record after Alejandro Casanas, the 1976 and 1980 Olympic silver medallist, clocked 13.21 in Sofia in 1977. For the record, the other Cuban outdoor World record holders are: Perez Duenas (triple jump) in 1971, Alberto Juantorena (800m) in 1976 and 1977, Javier Sotomayor (high jump) three times from 1988 to 1993 and Osleidys Menendez (javelin) in 2001 and 2005.
“I am very proud to join these great athletes Cuba has produced,” he explained. “They also set records being young.”
The World record performance in Ostrava proved the catalyst for a near perfect season for the talented young Cuban, who is coached by Santiago Antunez.
He won all but two of his races during the outdoor season – the other blemish besides Berlin came when he placed second to Oliver in Lausanne – and he dipped below 13 seconds on no less than six more occasions after his 12.87 run in Ostrava.
Robles came perilously close to lowering his own World record again with 12.88 in Paris and later recording 12.91 in Stockholm before winning the biggest race of his career, the Olympic title in Beijing in 12.93. It was some year.
Now aged 22 the Cuban has the world at his feet and many believe he has the ability to further lower his World record.
But for the laid back bespectacled Robles he was not making any promises and told IAAF magazine of his future goals: “I’ll try and go under 13 seconds as much as possible. It is not easy but that is my goal.”
The world excitedly anticipates much, much more.