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Soup of This Day #228: Long Ol’ River Forever Keeps Rollin’ On

August 9, 2012

Gascoyne River
My Ol’ Man River – The Gascoyne River near Carnarvon in Western Australia. For most of each year this river, the longest in Western Australia, is upside down – The water flows underneath the sandy riverbed. Then when enough rain falls in the desert catchment the river comes down the right way up, a wide ribbon of dirty water that charges the aquifier and refreshes the soul – Photo: Longworth72, 2005. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Last night Dayron Robles lined up in the final of the men’s 110m hurdles. I’m writing about this for a number of reasons, at least 1 of which is that Dayron Robles is a cool name to roll off the tongue.

Yes I know I’m writing it rather than vocalising it, but these posts come from the voices in my head and they like saying Dayron Robles.

Dayron Robles, Dayron Robles…

It’s got rhythym that name – C’mon and sing it with me…

‘But ol’ man river, he jes keeps Dayron Robles.’

It’s a nice lyric and not just because 9 out of 10* readers of this blog now have Paul Robeson’s deep bass-baritone resonating it’s rich timbre in their brains. No, it’s on the money because the world’s best hurdlers flow over those barriers and Dayron Robles is 1 of the world’s best.

And I mean flow in the steady, relentless way that a river gets to going. You see, you can’t really put on a burst of speed mid-race like a sprinter can. What you have to do instead is to measure your stride length and slip into an easy rhythm that balances speed with precision. Get your stride off by a few centimetres and you can clip a hurdle. Clip a hurdle and you can most likely watch your chances float on by, like driftwood in a river current.

The kind of driftwood that is made up of broken hurdles.

The fine margins in play are emphasised by the strict dimensions of the track – There are 10 hurdles, each measuring 1.067m in height. The 1st hurdle arrives at the 13.72m mark and thereafter every 9.14m. The balance of the 110m is given over to a finishing stretch of 14.02m

This is for me as fascinating as the 100m dash. Its technicality makes it compelling drama that is well worth the time to watch.

Oh, and there are stacks, epic stresses and cruel strains – This is not an event for the mentally brittle and nor is it for someone who is afraid to cry – Mostly because it often ends in tears.

Take Chinese superstar Liu Xiang. He went into the 2008 Beijing Olympics as 1 of the faces of those Games. He was to China of similar significance as Cathy Freeman was to Australians in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He had the record to back that up that idolatry too. He was the defending Olympic champion (and record holder) and the 2007 World Champion.

All of which, it turned out, cruelly counted for nought on the track. Liu had been rumoured to have been injured and this was born out in the 1st round of heats. There was a false-start by another runner and as the athletes were being reset China’s great athletic hope simply walked off in front of a stunned home crowd with an inflamed Achilles tendon. Liu looked upset but you got the feeling that was nothing compared to the shattered Chinese fans inside Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium.

Some serious national angst followed and Liu dropped off the radar for a bit as he worked to rebuild his career.

He made it back for the 2011 World Champs where he initially finished 3rd but was elevated to silver after a competing hurdler was adjudged to have impeded Liu and therefore was disqualified.

It was Dayron Robles.

Robles edges Liu’s lane and then appears to reach across to pull his Chinese rival back by the wrist, which is pretty impressive given that despite holding hands the 2 still managed to finish in the top 3. Let’s label that the world’s fastest bromance.

Dayron blamed his disqualification on being Cuban but the replays were pretty conclusive. Some people just don’t get merging into traffic.

For the 2012 London final there was no repeat of the high-speed shenanigans between the 2. Mostly because Liu, again under an injury cloud leading in to the Games, clattered a barrier in the 1st round of heats. The Chinese athlete wasn’t just being uncoordinated – In the take-off for the 1st hurdle he pulled his troubleome Achilles tendon. He was wheeled off in a chair.

There was no such drama for Sally Pearson, the outright favourite in the women’s 100m hurdles (They run 10m less). Pearson went in to the London Games having won 32 of her past 34 races. As a result she, like Liu, bore the hopes of a nation across the hurdles. Unlike Liu she was able to deliver – Edging US athlete Dawn Harper with a well-timed lunge on the line Pearson won in an Olympic record time of 12.23s.

I should point out at this time that for the women the hurdles are 0.838m in height with the 1st set at the 13m mark and thereafter every 8.5m. The final stretch, across which Pearson so successfully travelled, is 10.5m.

Pearson has now added Olympic gold to the World Champs gold she won in 2011. She does have another accolade on her resume as well – She was the 2011 International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) Female Athlete of the Year.

Sally Pearson is the 1st Australian to have won the award.

The corresponding Male Athlete of the Year from 2011 was Usain Bolt. Tonight he races in the final of the men’s 200m. He will have no hurdles to impede him and in truth there doesn’t appear to be much else on paper that can drag him down from greatness either. He cruised through the semi’s overnight and there are some who believe he could go sub-19s, driven by his Jamaican team-mate Yohan ‘Beast’ Blake.

Regardless of the time it takes, should he win the race he will have achieved a feat that has never been done before – Usain Bolt will have won both the 100m and 200m at consecutive Olympics. That feat has been dubbed the ‘double-double’ and it will go a long way to settling the issue of who the greatest athlete in history is.

Even if Bolt doesn’t win, Dayron Robles won’t be considered to be in the same stratosphere. The charismatic Cuban did win the 110m hurdles in Beijing and remains the fastest man ever in the event but last night he was unable to defend his crown, pulling up after the 6th hurdle with a suspected hamstring injury. It seems that sometimes even the inexorable river can get dammed to a trickle.

In the end American Aries Merritt claimed gold with a scintillating time of 12.92, just 0.05s outside Robles’ World Record.

Never mind, Aries Merritt is a cool name too. It just rolls off the tongue, that does.

* It’s debatable whether this blog actually has 10 readers so I’ve pretty much just surveyed me and then extrapolated.

Long Ol’ River Forever Keeps Rollin’ On

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