Having broken the 13 seconds barrier for the 110m Hurdles in Doha and then won at the DKB-ISTAF Berlin - AF Golden League - last Sunday (1 June) the two next big goals are obvious for David Oliver: Qualifying for Beijing at the trials beginning in Prefontaine on 27 June and then reaching the final of the Olympic Games in Beijing.
But the 26-year-old, who remains unbeaten during this outdoor season with five wins to his credit, already also thinks about a post-Olympic highlight: the IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final, Stuttgart, Germany, 13 and 14 September 2008.
Germany has been a good venue for Oliver during his young international career as a hurdler, which just began three years ago in 2005. A year later he won Berlin’s Golden League meeting for the first time and qualified for the World Athletics Final.
“The World Athletics Final in 2006 was my first really big event with all the top guys in the race. It was nerve wrecking. And I could have done better than fifth place with 13.24 seconds. But to have reached Stuttgart and to have competed there was quite a step forward in my career,” says Oliver.
The American would surely also have qualified for the World Athletics Final in 2007 had he not pulled a muscle during the World Championships in Osaka. That injury ended his ambition of reaching the World final in Japan and ended the season as well.
“I had a great time in Stuttgart two years ago. So I very much hope to be able to run there this year.”
By chance convert to athletics
It was pure coincidence that Olivier, who became this season only the twelfth hurdler in history to go sub-13 seconds, once found his way into athletics. Going to high school in Denver he used to take the bus to and from school together with a good friend. That friend happened to belong to the school’s track and field team. So when they were training Oliver had to go home on his own.
“I was then sitting at my grandmother’s house and did not know what to do. One day I was fed up taking the bus back alone and just went with my friend to watch them training,” Oliver recalls.
Falling foul of a nickname
That was how it started. American football, basketball and baseball had been David Oliver’s sports before he watched the track and field training and got interested.
“I asked the coach if I could join and a day later I was doing my first 200 metre runs.”
Oliver was already 16 at that time and it looked as if the Long Jump and the Triple Jump could become his events. But at his first competition he could not produce a single valid jump.
“That is why I got my nickname DJ Scratch!” So David Oliver started from scratch – meanwhile he was 17 and turned to the hurdles. “When I had my first short race I was not bad.”
But there were no thoughts about a possible professional career in sports – neither in American football, which he continued to play for a while, nor in athletics.
“At that time I really had no idea that it would be possible to make money in athletics.”
After school Oliver studied marketing at Howard University. Because of his talent he had gained a scholarship. It was then at a chance meeting for the Olympic trials in 2004 where Brooks Johnson spotted the talent of Oliver, who was 22 at that time. Since then Johnson is Oliver’s coach and when the training group moved from San Diego’s high performance centre to Orlando he went with them.
Mum, the role model
“I have always believed that I would be able to reach the best of the world and that I would be able to break 13 seconds,” says Oliver, whose mother is his role model: Brenda Chambers was a 400m hurdler and ran a personal best of 58.54 in 1980.
“When I came to Orlando in 2005 Brooks Johnson put together a long-term plan. In the first season it was all about getting experience. The second year was about improvement.”
Oliver had a PB of 13.55 in 2004 which he improved to 13.29 and 13.20 in the following two years.
“In 2007 the goal was to qualify for the World Championships. I managed that and was among ,the best of the rest’.”
He had improved to 13.14 seconds early in the 2007 season but there was still a considerable gap to the likes of Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles. But because of the injury in Osaka, Oliver could probably not show his full potential last year.
Not always helpful tailwind
After a fine indoor season with an improvement to 7.47 seconds at 60m Hurdles Oliver became the ninth fastest ever at 110 m hurdles with his 12.95 seconds in Doha. That still stands as the world leading in the Olympic season. There was a 2.0 tailwind in Doha, but this is not always helpful in hurdling and Oliver feels this way as well.
“I would have prefered to have had no wind in that race, because I was propelled to the next hurdle too fast. And because of that my technique was not perfect at the last three hurdles.”
It was that final section on which he had worked hard during winter training.
“I have improved this part. And overall my speed and my technique are better than a year ago,” says David Oliver. “In former years I had not really an idea of what I was doing when running the hurdles. Now I know very well.”
Room for improvement in first half of race
At the start (which was very slow in Doha and might have cost him a possible World record) and at the first three hurdles he sees room for more improvement.
The first part of the race was a problem in Berlin on Sunday, when Oliver found no rhythm.
“It was my most ragged race this season,” he says.
But he still won with 13.19 seconds, beating Dayron Robles for the second time, which should boost his confidence. The only two times he has beaten the Cuban was in Berlin’s Olympic stadium. This might be a good omen for next year’s World Championships in the capital. And there are more ties to Berlin, since his German manager Marisa Reich lives in the city as well.
Not envying pressure on Liu Xiang
Asked about Liu Xiang’s World record of 12.88 seconds the US hurdler says:
“Breaking the World record is of course the ultimate goal – for me and for everyone else. But when I compete now I don’t think about records. I simply want to show the best possible performance.” And much more important than records is the Olympic qualification. “There are ten hurdles in the way and plenty of very strong opposition,” says Oliver.
Oliver says he would like to meet Barack Obama. “His development is an impressive one. I would like to see him becoming the first Afro-American US President.” Obama and Oliver – who knows, perhaps they could both come up with sensational major wins this year.
“I would not like to be in the position of Liu Xiang,” answers Oliver, when asked this question, regarding the enormous pressure the Chinese has to deal with.
“Nonetheless Liu Xiang is the big favourite in Beijing. But of course there is a chance to beat him. You have to run very quick to do it! I hope the day is not too far away when I manage to do so. If I should not have done so earlier then perhaps the time will be in Stuttgart.”
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF