Kerron Clement at the pre-meet press conference in Paris (Bob Ramsak) © Copyright
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Seventh hurdle is the key for Kerron Clement - ÅF Golden League, Paris

Reigning 400m Hurdles World champion Kerron Clement was one of three to score upsets in the race for the ÅF Golden League Jackpot last week in Rome as he defeated Bershawn Jackson ending his compatriot’s hopes for a share of the million dollars.

One week later and the two Americans reunite again for the Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis for what is billed as one of the most exciting duals of tomorrow evening.

Execute my own race

Jackson and Clement have had similar paths to the top of the 400m Hurdles. Jackson, 25, was a World Junior bronze medallist in Kingston 2002 before making his appearance on the international circuit aged 20 and taking the World Championships title in Helsinki 3 years later.

Clement, 22, was the World Junior champion two years later in Grosseto 2004, made his debut on the one-day meeting circuit aged 19 and won the World senior title at Osaka just one year ago.

While Jackson had an unlucky 2007 year, he returned to the top taking emphatic wins at the first two legs of the ÅF Golden League series. Meanwhile, Clement opted to compete on the US circuit and also had a few outings at 400m flat.

The two first raced each other at the US Olympic Trials and Jackson claimed the title 19 hundredths of a second ahead of Clement. The second match-up took place in Rome last week and this time Clement out-ran Jackson by 11 hundredths.

Whoever wins in Paris will get a small psychological edge as the two share the same goal: the 400m Hurdles Olympic title!

“Tomorrow I just want to go out there and execute my race,” said Clement talking at the pre-event press conference. “Of course the aim is always to win but my coach (Bobby Kersee) said I kind of went out too slow last week, so I will try and get out faster and just maintain the speed that I have till the end.”

Relieved of the pressure of the US Olympic Trials, Clement underlined how big an achievement having made his first Olympic team was.

“Here there is no pressure, the pressure was at Trials. It was the magnitude of the race that made it tough. It was the Olympics. I couldn’t sleep for three nights before the finals, I was tossing and turning and calling my mum at 2am in the morning, I was really nervous. I knew my dream was one step closer and I had to be in the top three.

“I finished second to James Carter last year and went on to win the Worlds at Osaka so anything can happen on the big stage. What was important was to be in the team.”

Now I’m passionate

Clement who used to train under the guidance of Mike Holloway in Florida moved to California to join Bobby Kersee’s sprinters and hurdlers group last fall and according to him the move is already paying off.

“Now, I’m passionate about my event. Now I’m happy with the hurdles. Last year I wasn’t as excited as this year, it was more about the 400m last year.

“With Bobby I have learnt to visualise the race. He has taught me that you don’t have to be in front at the first hurdle, the race doesn’t actually start until the 7th hurdle.

“It’s like a horse race, a jockey doesn’t ride his horse the entire race, you have to learn when to let the horse go.”

“He’s teaching me things I didn’t know when I was back in Florida so I’m still learning about the hurdles. It’s taken time but I am at a place where I want to be now.

“I think I still have to improve on my speed and my technique, it’s a combination of both but I’m sure it’ll come together at the right time.

“I only have to go out there and ‘do me’. Run my own race, focus on my ten hurdles, on my lane, my technique and opening my stride.”

A fine technician, Clement uses 13 steps between each hurdle from start to finish and he admits it has now become mechanical. He confesses he doesn’t consider anyone of his illustrious predecessor as his idol but from legendary Ed Moses to World record holder Kevin Young and Angelo Taylor, the last American to win an Olympic title, he shows his knowledge and interest in his event.

“Ed Moses had to be the best. He just knew his craft. He mastered his technique from a very young age and I commend him for that. His races were art.

“Kevin Young, I’ve spoken to him. He just told me to be patient and that things will come at the right time, but we haven’t discussed his World record!

“Angelo is an excellent competitor and he proved that you can win from any lane. Be it lane 1, 8 or 9 anyone can come out there and be on top.”

Clement who is the holder of the World Indoor 400m record may have found his passion for the one-lap hurdles, the flat still remains in the back of his mind.

“I will focus on the 400m outdoors when the time is right. Maybe when I have the World record at 400m Hurdles I will focus on the flat. For now I want to focus on myself and my race plan. The 7th hurdle is when I want to start moving away from people!”

Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF