What is Hurdling?
We'll first discuss the three different events that make up the sport of hurdling. Afterwards, we'll delve into the dimensions and the lines of the track, the surface upon which all the hurdling races are held. Finally, we'll jump into the boundaries and the rules associated with each of the three hurdling events.
Types of Hurdle Events
There are three main events for the hurdles in track and field:
1. The 100 m
2. The 110 m
3. The 400 m
The 100 Meter Hurdles
The 100 m is the shortest hurdling event, and is competed only amongst women. It was first held internationally at the Summer Olympics in 1972, when the 80 m hurdles race was lengthened to a distance of 100 m
The current record for the 100 m hurdles was set in 2016 by American athlete, Kendra Harrison, with a time of 12.20 seconds.
The 110 Meter Hurdles
The 110 m is the second shortest hurdling event, and is competed only amongst men. It has been a cornerstone of the Summer Olympics since 1896.
The current record for the 110 m hurdles is held by American athlete, Aries Merritt, with a time of 12.80 seconds.
The 400 Meter Hurdles
The 400 m is the longest hurdling event, and is widely considered to be the most difficult discipline in hurdling, requiring great reserves of speed, endurance, technique, and spatial awareness. Furthermore, unlike the 100 m or the 110 m hurdles, the 400 m hurdles is run by both men and women. It has been a part of the Summer Olympics since 1900 for men, and 1985 for women. The current record for the men's 400 m is held by American athlete, Kevin Young, with a time of 46.78 seconds, and by Russian athlete, Yuliya Pechonkina, with a time of 52.34 seconds for the women's 400 m.
The 100 m and the 110 m Hurdles Start Lines
All competitors in the 100 m and the 110 m hurdles race begin side-by-side on the same straight starting line located on the straightaway.
The 400 m Hurdles Start Line
While the 100 m and 110 m hurdles use a straight start line, the 400 m hurdles feature a staggered start, in which the start lines in each lane are progressively moved further up, beginning with the lane closest to the field. This is to account for the oval geometry of the track, which causes the diameter of the outer lanes to be greater than the diameter of the inner lanes. Having a stagger start ensures that all competitors in the 400 m hurdles are running the same distance around the curved oval track.
Although every hurdler will be running the exact same distance, no matter which lane they are assigned to, lane 4 is the most popular position to run a sprint in, as it provides the runner with a good view of all the competitors around him.
With regard to the 400 m hurdles, lane 4 is also widely considered by many to strike the best balance between a good view of the competition and the gentlest curve, allowing the runner to maintain the flow of his stride when going around the track. The outside lanes have a wider turn, which may be disadvantageous for runners with shorter strides, while the inner lanes have a much tighter turn, which is generally considered harder to run quickly.
A hurdle is a light metal frame composed of a stand and two posts, between which is supported a horizontal bar made of plastic or a lightweight metal. Today, the horizontal bar is weighted and designed in such a way as to immediately fall over upon contact with a certain degree of force.
In each of the 100 m, the 110 m, and the 400 m hurdling events, there are a total of 10 hurdles on the track that the competitor must leap over.
The 100 m Hurdles Placement
In the women's 100 m hurdling event, all 10 hurdles are placed on the track with a distance of 8.5 m between each one. Note, however, that the first hurdle on the track is located 13 m away from the starting line, and that the final hurdle is placed 10.5 m before the finish line.
The 110 m Hurdles Placement
In the men's 110 m hurdling event, all 10 hurdles are placed on the track with a distance of 9.14 m between each one. Note, however, that the first hurdle on the track is located 13.72 m away from the starting line, and that the final hurdle is placed 14.02 m before the finish line.
The 400 m Hurdles Placement
In the 400 m hurdling event, all 10 hurdles are placed on the track with a distance of 35 m between each one. Note, however, that the first hurdle on the track is located 45 m away from the starting line, and that the final hurdle is placed 40 m before the finish line.
The Hurdle Heights
There are five different categories of hurdle heights:
1. The College High
2. The High School High
3. The Intermediate
4. The Women's High
5. The Low Hurdle
The College High
The college high is one of the 42-inch-high hurdles that are used for the men's 110 m hurdling event at the college and Olympic levels. It is also referred to as the open high.
The High School High
The high school high is one of the 39-inch-high hurdles that are used for the boys' 110 m hurdling event at the high school level.
The intermediate is one of the 36-inch-high hurdles that are used for the men's 400 m hurdling event at the high school, college, and Olympic levels.
The Women's High
The women's high is one of the 33-inch-high hurdles that are used for the women's 100 m hurdling event at the high school, college, and Olympic levels.
The Low Hurdle
The low hurdle is one of the 30-inch-high hurdles that are used for the women's 400 m hurdling event at the high school, college, and Olympic levels.
Every hurdling event begins with the call from the starter, instructing all competitors to make their way into their assigned lanes and to assume their positions in front of their starting blocks. The starting block is located behind the starting line, and consists of two adjustable footplates, attached to a rigid frame, against which the competitor must brace his feet before the start of the race.
Starting The Race
At the starter's second command, Set, all competitors must assume the set position, or the four-point start position. The knee of the rear leg rises to an angle between 120 and 140 degrees while the knee of the front leg bends to a 90 degrees. The hips are also held at a higher level than the shoulders, and the majority of the body weight must be between the hands and the front leg.
One of the keys to success in hurdling is being able to sprint at maximum speed over the hurdles while maintaining a smooth, rhythmic stride throughout the race. There are two main strategies that competitors use in order to achieve this when approaching the hurdles:
1. The Three Step Technique
2. The Fifteen Step Technique
The Three Step Technique
The three step technique is used only by competitors of the 100 m and the 110 m hurdles. With this technique, the athletes must limit themselves to taking only three large steps between every hurdle. This strategy is highly popular, as it allows the hurdler to use the same lead leg to leap over all the hurdlers. Taking an even number of strides between every hurdle, on the other hand, will require the hurdler to switch lead legs at each hurdle.
In order to properly execute the three step technique from start to finish, the hurdler must take the longest possible strides that will allow him to maintain his maximum speed throughout the entire race. For further fluidity, hurdlers often run the race on the balls of their feet. Consistency is absolutely crucial, as slowing down or shortening a step may either cause a decrease in the vertical height that the athlete can successfully clear, or force the athlete to adjust his stride, costing valuable time.
The Fifteen Step Technique
The fifteen step technique is used only by competitors of the 400 m hurdles. With this technique, the athletes must limit themselves to taking only fifteen (15) large steps between every hurdle. As with the three step technique, this strategy is also highly popular because it allows the hurdler to use the same lead leg to leap over all the hurdlers, and not switch in between each one.
Just like the three step technique, in order to properly execute the fifteen step technique from start to finish, the hurdler must take the longest possible strides that will allow him to maintain his maximum speed throughout the entire race. For further fluidity, hurdlers often run the race on the balls of their feet. Consistency is absolutely crucial, as slowing down or shortening a step may either cause a decrease in the vertical height that the athlete can successfully clear, or force the athlete to adjust his stride, costing valuable time.
Stutter stepping is the shortening of stride length as an athlete approaches the hurdle, which decreases both speed and momentum. It is critical that the competitor avoids stutter stepping during the race, as it will cost valuable time and power.
Horizontal Sprint Speed
The athlete, without breaking stride, typically launches straight into the air when he is about 6 or 7 ft away from the hurdle. The most efficient method of attaining maximum vertical height over a hurdle is by reaching the greatest possible horizontal sprint speed on the track. Only a minimum amount of time and energy will be needed to clear the hurdle, provided that the competitor is able to efficiently convert his horizontal energy into vertical energy.
The Lead Leg
In addition to attaining the necessary vertical height, a key focus of the launch is to reduce the total time spent airborne. Therefore, the lead leg, or the outstretched front leg that moves over the hurdle first, should be very slightly bent, as a leg that is completely straight will take significantly more time to pass over the hurdle. The athlete's torso should also be leaning slightly forward as well. In addition, it is recommended that the athlete positions his slightly-bent lead leg such that the heel just barely clears the hurdle. Remember, there are no additional points awarded for reaching a certain vertical height over the hurdle.
As the lead leg rises over the hurdle, the opposite arm extends forward diagonally, pointing towards the side of lead leg, but at an angle parallel to the track. This helps maintain the competitor's balance and rhythm for the rest of the race.
The arm on the side of the lead leg should be bent at the elbow and extended as far back from the body as possible. Overall, the hurdler's arm positioning should resemble that of a sprinter's in full stride.
The Trail Leg
The trail leg is the back leg that follows the lead leg over the hurdle. It is important that the trail leg is kept fully bent, as this will allow for the fastest possible hurdle clearance. The part of the trail leg below the knee should be held parallel to the track, and as close to the top of the hurdle as possible. Furthermore, in order to maintain overall stride length and recover some of the energy expended in the flight, the athlete's trail leg should drive forward with the knee. Note that the knee should be tucked up as tight as possible under the armpit.
In order to avoid contact with the horizontal bar of the hurdle, it may be necessary to fully straighten out the lead leg at the top of the flight path, depending on the length of the competitor's leg. However, because a bent knee will allow for a stronger and faster push-off force upon descent, it is recommended that the athlete slightly bends the lead leg again, once the lead foot has cleared the hurdle.
Upon clearing the hurdle, the lead leg should be quickly snapped down to prevent contact with the hurdle. Although there is no penalty for accidentally coming into contact with a hurdle, this can significantly decrease the competitor's overall speed, as well as disrupt his stride and sprinting technique.
The torso and the arm opposite the lead leg should continue extending forward as the lead leg clears the hurdle. When the trail leg begins to rise over the horizontal bar of the hurdle, the elbow of the arm opposite the lead leg must then move out to the side to provide space for the trailing leg over the hurdle.
In order to further minimize the potential loss of speed, the competitor must continue holding his body in a sprinting position as the lead leg descends.The competitor must also powerfully drive his trail arm forward as the lead leg makes contact with the track in order to propel the rest of the body ahead.
Unlike popular belief, an athlete is not penalized or disqualified for unintentionally coming into contact with the hurdle while attempting to clear over it. However, an athlete who causes the hurdle to fall into another competitor's lane, whether by accident or design, and who is deemed by the judges to have interfered with that competitor's race, will be disqualified. In addition, an athlete who touches the hurdles with his hands will also be immediately disqualified.
An athlete who simply steps on the white lane line is considered as having left his lane, and will therefore be automatically disqualified. Furthermore, obstructing or crossing over into another competitor's lane is considered a serious offence, and will also result in immediate disqualification.
Hurdling Glossary Terms
Here are all the terms we will be covering related to the sport of track and field hurdling:
- The Hurdles
- Standard Competition Area
- Start Line
- Finish Line
- Stagger Start
- Home Straight
- Back Straight
- Inside Lane
- The College High
- The Open High
- The High School High
- The Intermediate
- The Women's High
- The Low Hurdle
- Stutter Stepping
- Lead Leg
- Three Step Technique
- Trail Leg
- Starter's Gun
- False Start
- Fully Automatic Timing System
- Photo Finish
- Chief Photo Finish Judge