Series14 Jun 2018

Devon Allen: I love hurdling because…


Devon Allen (centre) in the 110m hurdles at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)

USA’s Devon Allen passed up a potential career as a wide receiver to instead focus on athletics. The Olympic finalist and 2016 US champion explains why he loves hurdling.


"I was always an athletic kid and I was into all sports as a youngster including (US) football, soccer, baseball and basketball. But my athletics journey began during a game of kickball on a YMCA programme when I was aged nine or 10.

"One of the volunteers working that day, whose father was a track coach, noticed my speed when I ran around the bases and suggested I should run track the next year, which I did.

"My progress stalled during my first year of track due to a bout of pneumonia and in the second year I had a heel injury, but by my third year I was running low 11 seconds for the 100m and I won the 100m, 200m and 400m titles at the Arizona Junior Olympics.

"My hurdles story began when my high school coach, Tim O’Neil, who is my coach once more today, asked me to run the hurdles at the Nike Nationals in Eugene. We needed to score some points because we didn’t have anyone on the team and I agreed. I started to do hurdle drills and ran 15.1 in my first meet. I progressed quickly; at the state meet I ran 14.4 in the semis and 13.9 in the final.

"In my first meet of the following season, I ran 13.6 for the state record. That’s the moment I realised hurdles could be an event I had the potential to star in on the world stage. 

"I always joke that if I want to learn something, I jump on YouTube and after watching something a couple of times, I can figure it out pretty quickly. My coach would show me videos of hurdling greats such as Dayron Robles, Liu Xiang, Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson and I watched and learned from them.

"It was a little later in college when I learned about the drive phase and the more technical elements to the race, and this is when I learned to love the event.

"Last year I made the decision to focus on the 110m hurdles over a US football career. I was tired of being hurt in football after suffering two ACL injuries and I knew that by focusing on hurdling, I have the potential to win an Olympic gold medal in that event at the Tokyo 2020 Games.

"The best part of hurdling is it can look such a chaotic event but the elite athletes make it look so graceful. There are so many variations of how the race can unfold in the hurdles, but you never can predict what will happen. You practice every single outcome and the hope is that in the race, you deliver a performance which can best be described as controlled chaos.

"Another attraction is the amount of travel the sport has given me. Travel is one of my favourite things and to be paid to travel the world is cool. I also enjoy the freedom my job brings. I am a full-time athlete who can train anywhere in the world. Earlier this year, for example, I spent a month racing and training in Australia."

Steve Landells for the IAAF