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UK 400 hurdles - state of play

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  • UK 400 hurdles - state of play

    A couple of very good posts about current British men's 400 hurdles ... thought it would be good to quote them to promote debate in another of an occasional series ..

  • #2
    welcome to the forum FieldandTrack

    Originally posted by FieldandTrack View Post
    RunUnlimited that's a very interesting and comprehensive summary of male 400m hurdlers in the UK currently – thank you.

    Chalmers is indeed a real talent, and is backing it up with some very good performances indeed. Becoming the UK Champion certainly topped it off – he was a clear winner and took the penultimate flight of hurdles particularly well. He has adapted well since his coach James Hillier left for India, and in Matt Elias (his current coach) he's got someone who has a very good understanding of the event. Everyone will be keeping an eye on him with his UK title and No.1 ranking (thus far) in 2020.

    As for McAlister, I hope you don't mind my pointing out that he is in fact a civil servant as opposed to a lawyer (he studied Economics and Politics at Birmingham). But he has progressed steadily year on year, and his recent successes have dwarfed those of his training partner, Jacob Paul, who had always been the superior athlete at junior through to U23 level. McAlister has long accepted that his hurdle technique is not as good as it could be, and you can see in his performance at the UK Championships that he stutters into hurdle 5 (indeed, he did the exact same at the UK Championships in 2019 as well). But his strength as a 400m flat runner and ability to pace a 400m H race pretty evenly has made for some very good times indeed (though more so in 2019). He also works full-time, which is impressive for an athlete of his level.

    As for Knibbs, I strongly suspect he will go sub-50 next season, as he has the 400m strength for sure. He has developed a habit in previous years of stuttering into the first hurdle a little though, and his hurdling generally on both right and left leg lead could do with some improvement (Chalmers, for example is a superior hurdler technically). But if he changes his stride pattern next season – and he's indicated he's going to – then he will be competing head-to-head against Chalmers again in the 400m H. He has a particularly very strong finish, no better exemplified than when he won the BUCS 400m H final last season. If he can tighten up his hurdling (Lawrie is another example of an excellent hurdler), he will be a real threat.

    If I am not mistaken, has Seb Rodger not retired from the sport? He had a bad injury last year and I think that effectively made up his mind to quit.

    Jacob Paul is a more curious case, it has to be said. His 2017 was excellent, but 2018 saw him injured immediately before the Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast. For much of 2019, a lot of his performances seemed below-par, but to his credit, he came through very strongly in the season's latter races to take a British title. Running his second fastest time ever in the final of the UK Championships last year was an excellent run. Again though, as in 2017, he just missed out on the World Championships. I believe he is still yet to represent England or Great Britain at a major international as a senior athlete? But you are quite correct, time is still on his side. Perhaps he has had a lot of injuries to contend with this year. He seems in the right group to push on, though, as Marina Armstrong has quite a few strong athletes in her group currently (Jessie Knight, for example).

    As for Seamus Derbyshire, he is continuing to improve year on year, which is very encouraging to see. His time at Nuneaton (50.44sec) in windy conditions was a really good run, though he couldn't quite repeat it in Manchester. He evidently has the odd disaster though, with a string of DNFs this season (either falling at a latter hurdle, or running past the first hurdle) and a couple of other falls in 2019 (though it has to be said he took his tumble at UK Championships last season in good humour!). Above all that however, he performs when it matters. At both of his major competitions as a junior (Commonwealth Youth Games and European Juniors) he has come away with both a personal best *and* silverware. Knibbs and Chalmers have both had their respective failures at major international comps, with Chalmers having been disqualified at European Juniors 2019 and Knibbs at the same competition in 2017. Derbyshire does not have such blots on his copybook. His 400m time is also improving (he set a PB of 48.54 at Nuneaton earlier in the season). Like Chalmers, he is a good hurdler technically – he spends very little time in the air, which is a real attribute given his height. It'll serve him well for sure.

    But what about Efe Okoro? It turns out he has been hurdling for longer than I had thought, but he really has had a breakthrough year in 2020, running sub-50 for the first time. His 400m flat time is also very strong. Tony Hadley is perhaps better known for coaching 400m flat runners (Matt Hudson-Smith or Derek Redmond for example) but things seem to be going very well for him and Okoro just now. His technique is a little inefficient but makes up for it with superb strength and basic speed. Doubling up with both the 400m H and the 400m at the UK Championships seemed an odd move initially, but I reckon it paid off.

    It will be very interesting indeed to see how these hurdlers develop in 2021 where, one hopes, there will be a full season of competition.


    • #3
      and RunUnlimited's original post

      Originally posted by RunUnlimited View Post

      Alastair Chalmers is for sure the real deal, having watched him develop as a junior athlete, making the finals of the World Juniors in 2018 where he'd first break Richard Davenport's then 14 year old British record in the semi finals, before finishing a very credible 6th place in a final loaded with one of the greatest U-20 400m hurdles fields in history, then further lowering that record multiple times in 2019. He was the big favourite heading into the European U-20 champs and I'm confident he would have won the gold there and become the first British teenager to run sub-50 seconds for the event in the process... until he got disqualified for a lane infringement in the semi finals of course. But he's not let that setback (nor the disruption of COVID this season) slow down his development in the U-23 ranks this year. In three of the four 400m hurdles races Alastair has competed in, he's run under 50 seconds and set PBs.
      I think this young man is the brightest 400m hurdle talent we've had since (Jack Green - thanks for pointing this out @caterhatch)

      Chris McAlister was the surprise of 2019, coming from complete obscurity to being British #1 at the event. His only result of any note was probably winning the "senior" 400m hurdles at the English Schools back in 2014, aged 19. But apart from that, he flew under the radar, never representing GB at junior level and going into the U-23's he was more focused on his studies as a lawyer rather than an athlete. He broke 51 seconds in 2016 (50.88, Watford) but wouldn't improve on that time until 2018 where he consistently set times under 51 secs, with a best of 50.36 coming that summer. But I don't think anybody anticipated what he would do the following season, where it seemed that everytime he stepped on the track there would a PB or near-PB performance, including setting one during his 5th placed finish in the semi-final in the World Championships.. I see him as definitely a contender for a British title next year if he's fit and someone who could get under 49 seconds in a more regular athletics season.

      Knibbs actually used to beat Chalmers in the junior ranks, but with the latter's development in the last couple of years, the balance of power has shifted markedly. Still Knibbs is a talented hurdler who is also improving with time and more experience and his surprise win in the flat 400m in Manchester last weekend suggests that once he returns to 400m hurdles next year, that his 50.16 lifetime best from 2019 will be revised.

      Jacob Paul and Seb Rodger? Hard to say. With Rodger, after a promising U-23 career with his highlight being winning a silver medal at the Euro U-23's in 2013 aged 22, his career has largely stalled out for the most part. His 400m hurdles PB remains the 49.19 he ran in Tampere and now at 29 years of age, the chances to improve seem to be diminishing.
      As for Paul, he's had a good junior career, where he went undefeated over 400m hurdles at the English Schools champs, represented Great Britain and England at international level (World U-20s (Semi Finalist) and European U-20's (Bronze medalist), Commonwealth Youth Games (4th place) and European Youth Olympics (Silver medalist). As an U-23, he came 5th at the European U-23 champs in 2017 and during that time came close to qualifying for the World Championships in London that year, coming 2nd in the UK Trials but missing out on the qualifying time.
      Now 25 he's still got time to lower his PB further (currently at 49.49, set in 2017) but whether he'll get fast enough to make it past the preliminary round at an Olympic Games or Worlds is still to be seen.

      The real dark horse out of all the names you mentioned though has to be Seamus Derbyshire. Even amongst athletics fans who follow the junior ranks of the sport, Derbyshire likely went unnoticed by the majority, who had their attention diverted to Alastair Chalmers' exploits instead. And for good reason too. Sure, as a 17 year old he won a silver medal (behind Chalmers incidentally) at the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2017, but folks still overlooked him in favour of the more noticeable teen hurdles talent. 2019 would change all that. He had lowered his PB to 51.72 in 2018, but there wasn't much sign of the huge leaps he would take in the event. Over the course of 2019, Derbyshire would revise his PB *four* times in all, culminating in his surprise silver medal at the European U-20's in Boras where he hacked over 4 tenths of a second from his PB (50.86) to go 8th on the UK U-20 all time list.
      He's certainly worth keeping an eye on now and I believe he'll improve a lot in the next few years.


      • #4
        Originally posted by carterhatch View Post
        and RunUnlimited's original post
        our lack of top quality 400m hurdlers reflects as i see the situation the fact that our curren crop of 400metre runners is as poor as i recall.


        • MysteryBrick
          MysteryBrick commented
          Editing a comment
          Agreed - fundamentally, if you aren't fast enough on the flat you aren't going to be fast enough on the hurdles. Jack Green and Dai Greene both had 45 pace, surprisingly so when looking at Dai. You won't break 49 if your 400m PB is 47.xx. Chalmers is the only one I think has the potential to take a step onward.

      • #5
        Originally posted by philipo View Post

        our lack of top quality 400m hurdlers reflects as i see the situation the fact that our curren crop of 400metre runners is as poor as i recall.
        A good point... since the retirements of Kriss Akabusi and Sally Gunnell (both of whom were very capable runners at the flat 400), the 400m hurdles has been a pretty poor standard from these shores, apart from rare exceptions like Dai Greene's brief period of "dominance" from 2010 to 2011, or Tasha Danvers surprise bronze medal and big PB at the 2008 Olympics. A huge slice of bad luck put paid to what would have been, in my opinion, a major championship medal winning career in Perri Shakes Draton. I've said here before many times that she was the most naturally talented and most physically gifted hurdler over the distance since Gunnell, and I'm convinced she was set for at least a silver medal in Moscow 2013... but we know how that final went and what it eventually did for her career thereafter. Eilidh Doyle, for all her endevour and guts, was never really going to mix it up at the business end of an Olympic or World 400m hurdles, though she did make finals at that level which is an achievement in itself.

        Beyond those two in the last decade or so on the women's side, it's been fairly slim pickings, with more injury woes putting paid to one of our most promising junior athletes, Shona Richards (British U-20 record holder and silver medalist at the 2014 World U20s), while another contempory, Hayley McLean, has never really kicked on since winning gold at the European Juniors in 2013.

        On the men's side there has been the well documented Jack Green and his problems, the flameout that was Nathan Woodwood and the false dawn that was Niall Flannery, which left no real back up to Dai Greene when he started to suffer repeated injury issues following 2012. There hasn't been a British male representative in a 400m hurdles final in a major championship final (Olympics, Worlds) since Greene narrowly missed out on bronze in London 2012, and even at the European (or at the least Commonwealth) level it's been slim pickings too, with only Flannery's 4th place finish at the 2014 Commonwealths being the last time *any* British male 400m hurdler has made a final of that calibre. Not great at all.

        At the present moment there are some pretty decent juniors and U23s in both the women's and men's ranks who are worth following, but I agree with the general sentiment that a lack of basic flat speed will always be a hinderance to 400m hurdlers if you want to get into world class calibre, and considering the strides that have been made in both in the last 4 - 5 years, our hurdlers have got quite a lot of catching up to do.
        Last edited by RunUnlimited; 17-09-20, 07:21.


        • #6
          The dearth of current 400m talent is certainly a concern. I have watched UK athletics long enough to know there are cycles far beyond the control of any 'performance director', and to think that someone like, if my memory serves, Jamie Baulch, with a PB of mid 44s, used to be ranked no higher than 3rd or 4th in the country such was the pool of talent. what would we give now for a Robert Tobin or a Daniel Caines ... but what is interesting to note is the stats.

          what would the forum regard as a benchmark of world class in the men's 400/400h .. Breaking 45 secs has always been a target, and the UK has had 'only' 17 according to Po10 (Robert Tobin being just outside on 45.01 and 18 th on the list), yet with 400h, I have always felt that breaking 50s was the benchmark, of whom there are 42 UK athletes! Restrict that to sub 49, and then we have a more comparable, to the flat 400, figure of 12, with only Kriss Akabusi appearing on both lists ( I hear the echoes of his laugh now as i write this)

          A 4x400 relay drawn from those in that top 12 400h list Dai Greene - Alan Pascoe - Akabusi - Jack Green wouldnt be too shabby ...

          anyway morning musings as i make my porridge.


          • #7
            Can’t add much of value to the debate except to say that the 400H is one of my favourite track events. It just seems satisfyingly brutal and the wonderful Ed Moses was in his prime when I was getting into athletics.

            I could however happily live out the rest of my life never seeing another sprint hurdles race.


            • #8
              Originally posted by Ursus View Post
              Can’t add much of value to the debate except to say that the 400H is one of my favourite track events. It just seems satisfyingly brutal and the wonderful Ed Moses was in his prime when I was getting into athletics.

              I could however happily live out the rest of my life never seeing another sprint hurdles race.
              Hey, leave sprint hurdlers alone, ya bully!