Devon Allen - Next Stop Oregon (© WCH Oregon22)
Devon Allen has been one of the world’s best hurdlers since he burst onto the scene as a University of Oregon freshman in 2014.
Not only has he been one of the world’s best hurdlers over the past eight years, but Allen is also one of the most consistent men’s 110m high hurdlers in the world.
There would be no more fitting place than Hayward Field at the University of Oregon and the World Athletics Championships (WCH) Oregon22 for the former Duck to bring home his first global medal.
“I’d like to have a global medal by now, especially with how fast I’ve run and how consistently I’ve been running fast for the last eight years,” Allen said in late March while visiting Eugene, Oregon, the site of this year’s World Athletics Championships. “Last year was pretty good considering the amount of time I had to train leading up the Olympics, and this year I’m feeling pretty good.”
Allen is a two-time Olympic finalist, having finished fifth in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 while attending the University of Oregon, and fourth in Tokyo last summer. He reached the semifinals of the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London and was seventh at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Allen had his closest run to a global medal last year when he finished fourth in Tokyo in 13.14 seconds. Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment won gold in 13.04, followed by Grant Holloway of the U.S. in 13.09 and Ronald Levy of Jamaica in 13.10.
“The hurdles are so specific in the sense that you have to be super, super dialed in and tuned in on the day and for the race," Allen said. “I didn’t have a bad race, per se, I just didn’t have my best race so that's just kind of how it goes, and those guys ran great.
“I wouldn’t say I was too disappointed overall in just my effort. Obviously, I wanted to go home with a medal, and specifically my goal was to win gold, so that’s the sentiment I had for the Olympics, and then for the rest of the season, I was super consistent.”
Allen was so consistent following the Olympics that he ended the year ranked No. 1 in the world for the first time. That included a six-day stretch in September where he won the Diamond League final in Zurich, Switzerland, in 13.06, followed by a win in Berlin in 13.10, and then his season finale where he broke 13 seconds for the first time, clocking 12.99 in Zagreb, Croatia.
The 12.99 clocking made Allen the 22nd person to break the hallowed 13-second barrier and the 13th American to do so. He also broke his 13.03 personal best, which he had set in winning the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track and Field at Hayward Field.
“I knew it was there,” Allen said. “Even the training leading up to the Olympics. If I would have run a better, cleaner race, I probably could have run under 13 from the Olympic Trials on, but it just didn’t happen. I’m glad that at the end of the season, I finally did break that (13-second barrier) because now I have something I can move on from as a goal and move on to the next goal, which is world record, global medals and just competing, overall, more consistently and better.”
To reach his third World Athletics Championships, Allen will need to finish in the top three at the USATF Outdoor Championships, which are also at Hayward Field, from June 23–26. The World Athletics Championships are scheduled for July 15-24. Holloway has a bye to WCH Oregon22 as the defending world champion from Doha.
The world record of 12.80 was set by Aries Merritt of the U.S. in 2012. Holloway scared that record last year when he ran 12.81 in a semifinal heat of the U.S. Olympic Trials. Parchment has a best of 12.94 from 2014, France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde ran 12.95 in 2014, 2016 Olympic champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica has a best of 12.90 from 2017, Allen is at 12.99, Daniel Roberts of the U.S. ran 13.00 at the 2019 NCAA Championships, and Levy’s best is 13.05.
The men’s 110m hurdles could easily be one of the top events at this year’s World Championships. Of the world record, Allen says he “can’t see it lasting much longer than this year.”
“I would be remiss if I don’t think I could run 12.80 or 12.70,” Allen said, “which would put me in world record territory, and obviously if I can run in that 12.80-12.70 boat consistently, that puts me in definite gold medal territory as well.
“The goal is to be consistent from the beginning, so I want to open up the season fast, and then just be consistently fast. If you look at any world record progression or any elite hurdler progression, you look at Aries Merritt in 2012, he ran 12.90 probably like eight times and then ran a 12-hundreth PB to run 12.80. And that’s kind of how the hurdles work. You run 13.0, 13.0, 13.0, 13.0 and 12.90. That’s kind of what happened with Grant, too. He ran 13.0 so many times and then ran 12.81.
“The hurdle event is definitely something like that where you run super, super consistent, and then one time it clicks, and you can drop one or two tenths pretty easily.”
Speed has never been a problem for Allen. In 2016, he was the leading scorer at the Pac-12 Championships when he won the 110 hurdles and 200m, and was third in the 100m. He also regularly ran on Oregon’s 4x100m relay team in college.
Allen used this year’s indoor season to change his hurdle approach to better take advantage of his speed as he went from taking eight steps from the start to the first hurdle to seven steps. He hopes that mindset and tactical change leads to more consistency and faster times.
“I’m just having to decelerate a little bit into hurdle one, and that’s causing me to just be behind at the start of the race as opposed to being in the race where I want to be," Allen said. “We decided to just try and pull a step out and hopefully that helps me accelerate through hurdle one, which, in turn, helps me accelerate through the first part of the race.
“And then being in a better spot for the part of the race that I’m really good at, and kind of exceed, is the last three or four hurdles. So, if I can put that together, obviously, I think overall it’s going to be a much faster race and more consistently fast.”
How much longer Allen runs consistently fast on the track may get another test this spring. Allen will be participating in the Oregon football pro day on April 1 where prospective players showcase their skills in front of NFL scouts and front-office personnel in hopes of being selected in the NFL draft or landing a free-agent contract.
“My plan is, after this World Championship year, to transition back into football,” Allen said. “Whether it will work or not, whether I’ll play at the NFL level and at an elite level, that’s purely up to my ability and what I can do on the field. We’ll see.”
Allen was a high school football and track and field star at Brophy Prep in Phoenix, Ariz. He came to Oregon to play both sports and was a starting wide receiver on the 2014 team that won the Pac-12 championship. He had a team-high seven touchdown receptions, including TD receptions of 70 and 80 yards. Allen was also second on the team in receiving yards with 684 despite tearing an ACL in his knee on the first play of the Rose Bowl in the first-ever College Football Playoff game, and then missing the Ducks’ national championship game loss to Ohio State.
The ACL tear forced Allen to miss the 2015 track season. He returned to play in 12 of the Ducks’ 13 football games in 2015, but he was limited to nine catches for 94 yards. The following spring, Allen was again dominant on the track, winning the indoor NCAA title in the 60m hurdles and the outdoor title in the 110m hurdles for the second time in three seasons. His 13.03 PR at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field sent him to his first Olympics, where he finished fifth in Rio at the age of 21.
Allen quickly returned to Eugene to play football for the Ducks and looked like his old self on the gridiron with four catches for 141 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown in a home rout of Virginia in the second game of the season. He also had a memorable touchdown celebration as he imitated running over hurdles in the end zone.
But in the next game at Nebraska, Allen suffered another ACL tear, and his college careers in both sports were over. In November 2016, he announced he was going pro in track and field, and despite having to rehab another major knee injury, returned to the track in 2017 and was third at the USATF Championships to make the World Athletics Championships team to London.
“At the time, I was really frustrated with having to rehab for a whole eight to 12 months, twice, so I lost two years of my athletic development, kind of rehabbing and trying to get back healthy,” Allen said. “So, at the moment, I was like I’m just going to focus on track.”
“My goal was through 2020 Olympics, give myself four years to make this dream happen. The Olympics got postponed so I postponed that a year and I finished with the Olympics, so I just decided that it’s now or never because I don’t want to get too old. I don’t want to turn 30, 31 and then try and get into the NFL.”
Allen will turn 28 in December. He said he often spoke with Renaldo Nehemiah last year about running track and field while also possibly playing in the NFL.
Nehemiah set his first 110m hurdle world record as a sophomore at the University of Maryland in 1979 when he ran 13.16. Less than a month later, Nehemiah further lowered the world record to 13.00 and would have been a prohibitive favorite to win the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but the U.S. boycotted the Olympics over the Soviet Union-led invasion of Afghanistan earlier that year.
Nehemiah became the first person to break the 13-second barrier when he ran 12.93 in 1981 in Zurich. After competing in the 1982 indoor season, Nehemiah shocked the sports world when he signed with the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers to play wide receiver, despite having never played college football.
In three nondescript seasons with the 49ers, Nehemiah had 43 receptions for 754 yards and four touchdowns, never catching more than 18 passes in a season. He was on the 1984 49ers’ Super Bowl-winning team but had little impact and was expendable when the team drafted Jerry Rice the following spring.
Unlike Nehemiah, who returned to track and field in 1986 and qualified for the 1991 World Athletics Championships, Allen has football experience and played at a high level when injuries weren’t sidelining him.
“I know the skill gap is still there from college to the NFL, but I think when I did play college and when I did play at a pretty good level, I would consider myself talented enough to play in the NFL," Allen said. “Whether I can get back there or get even better, who knows? But as of now, I feel pretty good. I’ve been doing football stuff for about the last six weeks. It’s like riding a bike. I don’t really feel much different than I did in 2014 and 2016 playing ball.”
While Allen feels like he has unfinished business in football, he also does on the track and winning a medal on his hometown track would delight the Hayward Field crowd this summer. All former Oregon athletes are beloved by Hayward Field fans, but there’s no doubt that Allen is one of their favorite sons.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage, but I definitely know that everybody is cheering more for me than the rest of the field, so it feels good,” Allen said. “When I go back to Hayward, it feels like home, and I’ve kind of been able to settle in and have that same feeling I’ve had a lot of times competing there. Maybe not a direct advantage, but it makes me feel more comfortable and maybe takes a little bit of the pressure off in terms of anxiety and stuff like that.
“Luckily with this World Championships in Eugene and the pandemic kind of winding down, I’m just super excited for the fans to be back because I know every seat is going to be filled for every session, and it’s just going to be a ton of great fans for that competition, probably one of the best spectator events in the history of the sport.”
By Ashley Conklin