In part six of our 2016 year-end review series, statisticians A. Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava look back on the best hurdles performances of the year.
Men’s 110m hurdles
With four hurdlers under the magical 13-second barrier in 2015, there was little chance, even with the Olympics, that 2016 would be able to challenge the standard from last season. The reasons behind the slower results were multilayered and only one man, Omar McLeod, was able to repeat the feat of breaking 13 seconds in two successive seasons.
The 22-year-old Jamaican, who made a huge improvement in 2015 when lowering his personal best from 13.44 to 12.97, was the No.1 performer throughout the season. After winning the 60m hurdles title at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 in 7.41, McLeod began his outdoor campaign with a strong two-week period, clocking 13.08 at the Drake Relays, 13.05 at Doha’s IAAF Diamond League fixture and 12.98 at the Shanghai IAAF Diamond League stop, all world leads.
He followed with a 13.06 win at the Prefontaine Classic and 13.01 for the national title, marking a seven-for-seven run (two indoors and five outdoors) in 2016. But trouble followed. McLeod crashed through the final hurdle in Monaco in July and then, three days later at the Istvan Gyulai Memorial, hit a hurdle too hard midway to suffer back-to-back defeats heading into the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Despite those setbacks, McLeod was perfect in Rio, winning his heat and semifinal before comfortably securing the Olympic title in 13.05, 0.12 seconds ahead of Spain's Orlando Ortega, who took silver in 13.17. The 25-year-old Ortega came close to 13 seconds in 2014 when he clocked 13.01 in Monaco, and improved to 12.94 in Paris in 2015. This year he lowered the Spanish record to 13.04 and won the two IAAF Diamond League meetings after Rio in Lausanne and Brussels.
Men’s 400m hurdles
The men’s 400m hurdles season really didn’t warm up properly before the Olympics. There were no performances under 48 seconds in the lead-in to Rio with a 48.10 run by Johnny Dutch pacing the season. The 27-year-old didn’t make the US team and the fastest athlete entered in Rio was US champion Kerron Clement with a season's best of 48.40. This was by far the lowest standard in the event in the past 20 years.
Kenya's world champion Nicholas Bett had a disappointing season. He arrived in Rio with a modest 49.31 and was disqualified in the heats. He ended his season on an upnote, clocking 48.01 to win at the Paris IAAF Diamond League meeting.
In contrast to the rest of the season, the Rio competition was surprisingly good – and full of shocks. Ireland's 24-year-old Thomas Barr had only run 50.09 in the semi-finals of the European Championships five weeks earlier, but he was at a different level in Brazil, winning his semifinal with a 48.39 national record. In the final he missed a medal by just 0.05, but further improved his national record to 47.97 while finishing fourth.
Clement grabbed the gold in 47.73, closely followed by Kenyan Boniface Tumuti, whose 47.78 run was a national record. Yasmani Copello Escobar of Turkey, the European champion, took the bronze in 47.92, also a national record. The race produced the first career sub-48-second performances for the athletes placed second to fourth.
Women’s 100m hurdles
The men’s high hurdles event was traditionally almost monopolised by the USA but that has changed. Rio was the first Olympics ever (except for the boycotted 1980 Games) where the USA didn’t secure a medal in the 110m hurdles. It’s therefore quite remarkable that the picture is the exact opposite among the women.
The USA occupied the top seven positions on the 2016 world list and in Rio, Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin swept the medals.
And as the icing on the cake: the world record for the first time ever, set by a US athlete courtesy of Kendra Harrison. In the London leg of the IAAF Diamond League on 22 July, Harrison’s 12.20 victory eclipsed Bulgaria’s Yordanka Donkova’s 12.21, a record which had stood for nearly 28 years. Harrison, one of the smoothest hurdlers ever, had a brilliant year overall, running sub-12.50 every month from April through August and winning 10 of her 11 competitions.
However, that sole loss was a costly one indeed as it happened at the extremely competitive and all-decisive US Olympic trials. A small technical error in the final left her a tantalising 0.07 from that all-important go-to-Rio top-three position. And still she ran a time (12.62) which no non-US hurdler bettered during the whole of 2016.
However, that loss in Eugene almost certainly raised the determination with which she ten days later approached the race in London.
Women’s 400m hurdles
The event had no clear favourite for the Olympic gold going into 2016 but the 'Olympic dream' quite often inspires athletes to raise their game. This year witnessed 2013 world silver medalist Dalilah Muhammad return to the international scene after two years in relative anonymity.
Muhammad reigned supreme from the US Trials onwards. At the trials she won by more than a second in 52.88, the first sub-53 in the world since 2013, and followed that with a solid Olympic tune-up victory in London.
At the Olympics Muhammad was class apart, dipping under 54 seconds in the semis and winning the final by three metres in 53.13. She closed out her season with 53.78 for a comfortable win in the Lausanne. Overall Muhammad produced five sub-54 performances – no one else had more than two – and she was the sole sub-53.50 performer.
Behind Muhammad there were mixed fortunes but overall Sara Slott Petersen of Denmark was the most consistent, taking silver in Rio and never finishing lower than third, including in five IAAF Diamond League starts.
Eilidh Doyle, who was eighth at the Olympics, and Cassandra Tate, who didn’t qualify for Rio, were the most prolific in the IAAF Diamond League. Their respective records: Doyle 1-3-2-1-4-2-3-5, and Tate 5-2-4-1-2-4-1. That victory in the final secured Tate the overall title, although she stood only 12th on the world list and had a 2-4 win-loss record against Doyle.
Sydney McLaughlin, who won the world U18 title in 2015 when still just 15, continued her progress and qualified for Rio after lowering the world U20 record to 54.15 at the US Trials where she finished third. In Rio she went as far as the semi-finals, where she finished fifth, nine days after her 17th birthday.
Mirko Jalava (men’s events) and A. Lennart Julin (women’s events) for the IAAF