09 SEP 2009 Preview Thessaloniki, Greece

HURDLES - PREVIEW

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110m HurdlesMEN

With injury ending Olympic champion and World record holder Dayron Robles’ appearance at the World championships after about half a dozen strides in the first round, the Berlin final gave plenty of hurdlers the chance to rise from the background. Taking full advantage was 21-year-old Ryan Brathwaite, who rose from the obscurity of a small junior college in Kansas to take the World title.

Improving gradually in the build-up to Berlin, the newly minted national record holder for Barbados peaked at just the proper time to snatch gold in 13.14 from the more experienced American pair of Terrence Trammell and David Payne. To his credit, Brathwaite has followed up with a newly instilled confidence, winning two of his three races since – Zagreb and Brussels – and finishing third in Zurich.

Among the season’s most solid performers, Dexter Faulk didn’t even make it to Berlin. The rapidly rising American – whose pre-season best was 13.34 - had an off day at the US trials in June, where he finished eighth, but has performed admirably on the circuit, collecting victories at Berlin’s ISTAF, Turin and Paris, second in Lausanne and third in Rome. He clocked a career best of 13.13 in Ostrava and 13.14 in Paris.

Jamaican Dwight Thomas’s switch to the hurdles this year has already reaped dividends, first with a spot in the Berlin final, where he was seventh, and then with a 13.18 victory in Zurich, a national record. Showing good late season form, the 28-year-old also won in Rieti after finishing second in Brussels.

100m Hurdles – WOMEN

Brigitte Foster-Hylton nearly decided to hang up her spikes last autumn, a decision she was clearly happy she didn’t opt for after taking the World title in Berlin. The Jamaican produced a then season’s best of 12.51 in the German capital to fend off a strong field, much of which will reunite in Thessaloniki.

She has raced with grace and confidence since her triumph, winning four straight competitions. In Zurich she clocked a world-leading 12.46, just a scant 0.01 shy of her career best and Central American and Caribbean record from 2003. She was nearly as fast a week later in Brussels, where she clocked 12.48. At 34, Foster-Hylton is clearly at her best.

Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Delloreen Ennis-London, the silver and bronze medallists in Berlin with 12.54 and 12.55 respectively, will be leading the charge. The Canadian, who took bronze in Beijing last year, has run extremely well all season, capped with her career best 12.49 from Brussels where she was barely edged by Foster-Hylton. Ennis-London, who took her second successive World bronze, has also raced well all season, but hasn’t collected a victory since taking the Jamaican title in late June. Who’ll be the hungriest?

Perhaps American Dawn Harper, the reigning Olympic champion who faltered in Berlin to finish a distant seventh. After taking the national title, the 25-year-old took victories in Rome and Paris, clocked a personal best 12.48 in the Berlin semis, a performance she matched in Zurich. She’ll arrive on the Mediterranean coast riding a two-race win streak.

Others in the hunt will include Australian Sally McLellan (12.50 SB), fifth in Berlin, American Damu Cherry (12.53 SB), the Berlin ISTAF and Oslo winner, and Canada’s 2003 World champion Perdita Felicien, a Berlin finalist whose run 12.54 in 2009.

400m Hurdles – MEN

Here also much of the World championship final will reunite. Leading the pack is American Kerron Clement, who at just 23 is already a two-time World champion.

After collecting victories in Osaka, Carson, Rome and London, Clement defended his global title with a world-leading 47.91, winning by 0.10 over rising Puerto Rican star Javier Culson. He’ll start as the favourite to defend his WAF title.

Culson, 25, capped a stellar breakout season with his runner-up finish in Berlin where he clocked 48.09, his third national record of the season. Among his honours this season was also the Central American and Caribbean title.

Also looking to end his season on a high note will be 2005 World champion, Bershawn Jackson, who took the bronze this time around to match his finish from last year’s Olympic Games. Jackson is a two-time WAF winner, taking back-to-back victories in 2004 and 2005. Along with Clement, Jackson (47.98) is one of three to bring 2009 sub-48 credentials to Thessaloniki. The other is South African L.J. van Zyl. At 24, van Zyl is already a long-time fixture on the international circuit and finally joined the sub-48 club with his victory in Monaco where he clocked 47.94, the year’s second fastest performance. He didn’t advance from the semis in Berlin, and will be eager to make up for that here.

Among the strongest hopes for a Greek victory is Periklís Iakovákis, the reigning European champion. The World bronze medallist in 2003, the 30-year-old was fifth in Berlin with a season’s best 48.42. He also runs well late in the season, having won the WAF in 2006 in 47.92, the third fastest performance in the meet’s six-year history.

400m Hurdles – WOMEN

One of the most scintillating races at the World championships came in the women’s 400m Hurdles final where Olympic champion Melaine Walker romped home to a commanding victory over Lashinda Demus, clocking an extraordinary 52.42. The mark elevated the Jamaican to the No. 2 position all-time, just 0.08 shy of the World record.

While an Olympic champion should never be underestimated, what made the performance all the more remarkable was that the 26-year-old’s best 2009 performance coming into Berlin was nearly two seconds slower. She brushed all doubts aside with a fast 53.26 in semis, where she crossed the line with plenty in reserve. She was defeated in her follow-up in Zagreb by compatriot Kaliese Spencer but Walker is certainly a strong late-season performer. She won the WAF a year ago after finishing third the year before.

Demus, who collecting her second World silver, joined rare company in Berlin where she clocked 52.96: only three other women have run under 53 seconds without reaching the finish line first. But the 26-year-old, who took time off in 2007 to have twins, was even faster this season. She clocked a career best 52.63 in Monaco in late July, to currently occupy spot No. 5 on the all-time list, and just 0.02 shy of the U.S. record. Her runner-up finish in the German capital was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record in seven competitions in the event this season.

Among those looking to break up the current Walker-Demus monopoly in the event is Trinidad’s Josanne Lucas, who improved to 53.20 this season to take surprise silver in Berlin; Spencer, who clocked a PB 53.56 to finish fourth at the World championships and followed up with a victory over Walker in Zagreb and American Tiffany Williams, who clocked a season’s best 53.83 for fifth in Berlin.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF