Jason Richardson of USA wins his 400m Hurdles heat at the 2003 World Youth Championships (© Getty Images)
In the latest of our series in which athletes recall their World U18 Championships memories, USA's 2011 world 110m hurdles champion Jason Richardson reflects on winning the rarely achieved 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles double at the 2003 edition in Sherbrooke, Canada.
“Fun” was the simple recipe for the tremendous success Jason Richardson enjoyed during an unforgettable 2003 campaign. The versatile hurdler – adept at both the 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles – recalls experiencing an overwhelming feeling of excitement in the countdown to the 2003 IAAF World U18 Championships in Sherbrooke as he committed to competing in both hurdle events.
“I was having so much fun on the track and I liked the fact, at that point in my career, I didn’t have to pick an event,” he explains. “I just remember I had the ambition to run both events and it became a bit of a storyline and narrative of the championships.”
Aged just 17 at the time, he recalls the thrill of receiving his first US team uniform.
“It is an amazing feeling to represent your country at any level, but especially at such a young age,” he explains. “It gave me a preview that a professional career was a possibility.”
Setting himself a demanding schedule of five races across three days of intense age-group competition was far from easy but the camaraderie enjoyed by Richardson and his fellow US teammates eased the burden of expectation.
“There was a lot of crazy antics going on off the track, which you get with a bunch of adolescents,” he explains. “There was a lot of high school energy and I can say of all the teams I have made it was one of my favourites. I remember exchanging uniforms and doing a lot of off-track stuff you cannot really do at a senior level. It made for a much fuller and richer experience.”
Yet he had one major factor he needed to contend with should he deliver on his ambitions of double gold: the height of the hurdles were lower in both events than he had been accustomed to that season.
“I wasn’t used to the height, which meant I wasn’t familiar with the rhythm and I had to find a way to navigate the speed and the different changes of height position. This was tough to do.”
On his opening day of competition, Richardson made the perfect start, winning his 400m hurdles heat in a PB of 50.95 and later setting a lifetime best of 13.39 to place first in his first-round heat of the 110m hurdles. On day two he started out with a third successive victory, this time coming in the semi-final (51.30) of the 400m hurdles. But by the time of his 110m hurdles later that day, he started to feel the physical exertions of his demanding schedule.
“I was cramping pretty badly when we had a false start,” he explains. “But it allowed me to stretch out the leg and shake out the cramp by the time I got back down on the blocks.”
It was to prove his saving grace. In an electric final, Saudi Arabian hurdler Mubarak Al-Mabadi got off to a slick start and Richardson trailed over the first few hurdles until he established his full rhythm. By just beyond halfway he assumed control of the race and flashed across the line in a PB of 13.29 to strike gold by a victory margin of 0.12 from Al-Mabadi.
“At the time, I probably didn’t know what it meant to win, but in hindsight I had a much greater appreciation,” he admits.
With the 400m hurdles to come the following day and feeling like the pressure was removed following his gold medals success in the 110m hurdles, he went into his second final of the championships in a relaxed state of mind.
He then delivered his second gold in a PB of 49.91 – a mark which still stands today as U18 No.3 all time for the 400m hurdles (competing over the 84cm hurdles).
His victory was the “icing on the cake” for the athlete raised in Cedar Hill, Texas, who had enjoyed an incredible meet.
“I remember feeling really gratified and excited,” he recalls. “One of the team of USA coaches made sure I got back safely to the hotel and helped me recover. I made sure we all shared in the success. Back then, when you won a medal you wore it around your neck at the meet all the time!”
Describing his golden double at the 2003 World U18 Championships as “setting the tone for the rest of my high school and the early part of my college career”, there is little doubt the event in Quebec left a long impression on the man who would go on to win the 2011 world 110m hurdles title and 2012 Olympic 110m silver medal.
“I ended up making lasting friendships on that team with the likes of Galen Rupp and Natasha Hastings, who are still present on the circuit today. Natasha and I would later go on to college together and so many other NCAA champions emerged from that team. In fact, so many athletes who came before or after me at the professional level enjoyed their first taste of success at the World Youth Championships.”
It is an athletics competition he feels genuinely privileged to have experienced.
“I recall being so grateful to Team USA and their coaching staff thinking, it is amazing as an American to have these resources and, because of this, I felt I had an obligation to do as well as I could. It was a great dress rehearsal for my professional career.”
And for the athletes set to compete at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017 in July, Richardson has a simple message.
“The best advice I can give is have as much fun as you can," he says. "But couple this with the seriousness of knowing that these meets have been the early steps for a lot of athletes on their path to greatness."
Steve Landells for the IAAF