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Hurdling is a type of track and field race.
There are sprint hurdle races and long hurdle races. The standard sprint hurdle race is 110 meters for men and 100 meters for women. The standard long hurdle race is 400 meters for both men and women. Each of these races is run over ten hurdles and they are all Olympic events.
Other distances are sometimes run, particularly indoors. The sprint hurdle race indoors is usually 60 meters for both men and women, although races 55 meters or 50 meters long are sometimes run. A 60 meter indoor race is run over 5 hurdles. A shorter race may occasionally have only 4 hurdles. Outdoors, a long hurdle race is sometimes shortened to 300 meters for high school races over 8 hurdles (spaced distance-wise identical to the beginning of a standard 400 meter race), and 200 meter races for middle school and younger divisions over 5 hurdles (spaced in the same position as the last 5 hurdles of a standard 400 meter race). Masters age divisions also run a permutation of 300 meters with 7 hurdles (in the same position as the last 7 hurdles of a standard 400 meter race) and 200 meters with 5 (spaced the same as for the youth) for older age divisions.
There are five hurdle heights on most standard hurdles. The highest position, called a "high" hurdle (or sometimes a "college high" or "open high") is used for men's sprint hurdle races (60 m, 100 m and 110 m), which are 42 inches (106.7 cm). The next highest, frequently called a "high school high" 39 inches (99.1 cm) is used by masters men under age 50, high school and youth boys. The middle position of 36 inches (91.44 cm), is called an "intermediate" which is used for men's long hurdle races (400 m) plus some youth and masters age divisions. The next lower position, 33 inches (83.8 cm) is called the "women's high" used for women's short hurdle races. The lowest position, called the "low hurdle" 30 inches (76.2 cm) is used for women's long hurdles plus many youth and masters races. Some races call for 27 inches or 68.6 centimetres for youth or masters events. Hurdles that go to this position are rare and are notable by having a sixth position.
In sprint hurdle races for men, regardless of the length of the race, the first hurdle is 13.72 m (45 ft) from the starting line and the distance between hurdles is 9.14 m (30 ft). In sprint hurdle races for women, the first hurdle is 13 m (42 ft 8 in) from the starting line and the distance between hurdles is 8.5 m (27 ft 11 in). In long hurdle events, whether for men or women, the first hurdle is 45 m (147 ft 8 in) from the starting line and the distance between hurdles is 35 m (114 ft 10 in). Most races which are shorter than the standard distance (such as indoor races) are simply run over fewer hurdles but use the same distances from the starting line.
There is a technique that is desirable to accomplish efficient hurdling action during a race. Many runners rely mainly on raw speed, but proper technique and well-planned steps leading up to and between each hurdle can allow an efficient hurdler to outrun faster opponents. Generally, the efficient hurdler spends the minimum amount of time and energy going vertically over the hurdle, thus achieving maximum speed in the horizontal race direction down the track.
When approaching the first hurdle, athletes try to avoid Stutter stepping (a term used to refer to the cutting of stride length before reaching a hurdle). This cuts the runner's momentum and costs valuable time. Athletes attack the hurdle by launching at it from 6–7 feet away (depending on runner's closing speed). the lead leg extended yet slightly bent (because a straight leg leads to more time over the hurdle) so that the heel just narrowly clears the barrier's height. After launching, the trail leg is tucked in horizontally and flat, close to the side of the hip. The objective is to minimize center-of-gravity deviation from normal sprinting and reduce time spent flying through the air.
In order to hurdle properly and not simply jump over it, a runner must adjust his or her hips to raise them over the hurdles. This involves the correct use of the lead leg and the trail leg. The lead leg is the leg that goes over the hurdle first, and should remain fairly straight. Upon crossing over the hurdle barrier, the runner's lead leg snaps down quickly landing roughly 3 feet (1m) beyond the hurdle. The trail leg follows the lead leg. The trail leg drives forward at the knee (not swinging, as swinging causes the trunk to straighten up), and pulls through to maintain stride length. An effective trail leg will be parallel to the top of the hurdle and will be as close to the top of the hurdle as possible.
In men's hurdles it is usually necessary to straighten the leg at the top of the flight path over the hurdle, although a partial bend in the knee gains a faster push off when the athlete hits the ground. The ability to do this depends on the runners's leg length. As soon as the foot has cleared the hurdle, the knee starts bending again to lessen the effect of a long, slow pendulum. In women's hurdles, the lead leg is usually straight and the center of gravity does not rise relative to a normal running stride. Another way to view it is the foot path: "shortest path up and shortest path down". The opposite arm reaches farther forward and the elbow travels out to the side and then behind to make room for the trailing leg. The trailing leg also leads with the knee, but the foot and knee is horizontal, tucked up as tight as possible into the armpit.
As soon as the lead leg begins its descent, a strong downward push is exerted to enable the trailing leg's knee to come up under the armpit and in front of the chest. This enables recovery of some of the energy expended in the flight.
In the 100 and 110 meter hurdle events, the fastest hurdlers use the three-step technique. This means that three large steps are taken in between all of the hurdles. In order to do this efficiently, hurdlers must take long strides and maintain their speed for the entire race. If a hurdler begins to slow down while three-stepping, they may not be able to make it through all of the hurdles and may have to switch to four-stepping or five-stepping technique. When three-stepping, a hurdler will use the same lead leg for all of the hurdles. If a hurdler four-steps, they will have to switch lead legs at each hurdle.
A modern hurdle will fall over if a runner hits it. There is no penalty for hitting a hurdle (provided this is not judged deliberate). The misconception is based on old rules before the hurdles were weighted. In the 1932 Olympics, Bob Tisdall famously won the Olympic Gold medal in the 400 metre hurdles in World Record time, but was not credited with the record due to knocking over a hurdle. There can be disqualification if a hurdler knocks a hurdle into an opponents lane and it is judged to have interfered with the opponent's ability to run the race. There are now specifications for the tipping weight of a hurdle (the weights need to be adjusted to correspond with the height of the hurdle) so hitting a hurdle theoretically slows down the rhythm of the hurdler. However, pushing the hurdle with one's hands or running out of one's lane as a result of hitting the hurdle is cause for disqualification. While hitting hurdles is not generally considered desirable, a few sprint hurdlers have succeeded despite knocking over many hurdles. Contact with hurdles can decrease speed and also result in disruption of a hurdler's technique. Some coaches suggest if you lightly "kiss" the hurdle with the side of the leg closest to the hurdle, it can help with the runners speed by keeping the runner closer to the ground.
There are also shuttle hurdle relay races, although they are rarely run. They are usually only found at track meets that consist entirely of relay races. In a shuttle hurdle relay, each of four hurdlers on a team runs the opposite direction from the preceding runner. The standard races correspond to the standard sprint hurdle races: 4 × 110 m for men and 4 × 100 m for women.
See also