THE ROAD BACK to the top reaches of the 110 hurdles has been a long one for Devon Allen. In his last race of the Olympic season in Zagreb he scored his first PR in 5 years.
In ’14, he had won the NCAA and USATF titles as an Oregon frosh, ranking No. 10 in the world. Then, an ACL injury on the kickoff of the ’15 Rose Bowl knocked him back to square one the next season.
He fought his way back, running a PR 13.03 to win the Olympic Trials in ’16, then made 5th in Rio, but tore his other ACL in football that fall. He grinded through the next three seasons, managing a 7th in Doha as the knee plus Achilles issues held him back.
But last year he returned to his college coach, Jamie Cook, and started fighting his way back again. Second in the Olympic Trials in 13.10, he finished just out of the medals in Tokyo at 13.14.
After that he was on fire, winning in Lausanne (13.07w), hitting 13.08 for 2nd in Paris, capturing the Diamond League title in a near-PR 13.06. That brought him to Croatia for his final race of the season.
Starting from lane 5, flanked by gold medalist Hansle Parchment and his teammate, bronze winner Ronald Levy, Allen zipped to the fore immediately and stayed clean over the barriers, making it look easy to beat the Jamaicans by a stride.
The clock explained why it looked so easy. The Oregon alum had run a lifetime best 12.99, taking his place in an elite club that boasts only 22 members (see chart). (Continued below)
“I was excited,” he says. “That was a goal for the second half of the season. I felt like I definitely could have done it earlier, but I crashed a hurdle in Lausanne and obviously that race was a little bit windy, and a few other good races in Paris and the Diamond League Final. It was all very close and in the hurdle races, one hurdle where you get thrown off, 5-hundredths of a second can make all the difference.”
Overall, Allen hoped for more from ’21 but calls it a “pretty good” campaign. “I can’t complain that much. I ran fast. I was pretty consistent, at least toward the tail end of the season. That’s always a winning equation. When you can do that repetitively, you kinda know there’s a breakthrough there.
“You know, you keep running 13.0, then you run 12.9, and after you run 12.9, you run 12.8. That’s kind of how it works. It looks good for next season, for sure.”
Allen is not kicking himself over the Tokyo 4th. “I wouldn’t say I’ve felt like I had to redeem myself. Obviously, I would have wanted to win a medal and run well, but overall I didn’t run horribly. That’s just the way it goes. You gotta run the race and everybody that beat me in that race ran a great race.
“The timing of everything just wasn’t the best, because if you run the race again right now, I’d probably end up winning, you know?”
It was a long outdoor season for Allen, who skipped indoors because he was injured 11 months ago. “I had to step away from training and recover from it. So I didn’t really start training until February. I probably started hurdling in late March/early April.” That he was on the right track showed; by May he had run his fastest race in three years.
Now back in Phoenix, Allen says his legs felt “pretty wrecked” after the long flights home from Zagreb. He’s looking forward to 4-6 weeks away from heavy training.
He understands that the prospect of his getting a Wild Card bid to Worlds for winning the Diamond League is thin: “Historically USATF will give precedence to the world champion [Grant Holloway]. I’m not going to worry about it too much. Going into any race, there’s not three people who are going to beat me.”
He adds, “We could have four Americans in the finals at the Worlds. The Jamaicans are very, very competitive. So we kept one more Jamaican out of the Worlds, which is good for us.”
With an earlier start this fall, Allen expects to be back on the indoor circuit next winter. “When I had my good seasons in college, I always started in January because I was coming in from football season. So my goal is to stay in shape to where by the time I start training I don’t have to do too much.”
Being ready for the next four years with a global championship every season doesn’t rattle him at all. “To be honest, there should be a championship every year like in any major sport. I’ll be good.”
There will be more podiums up for grabs, he knows. Missing a medal in Tokyo, the 26-year-old says, “is not the worst thing that could happen. It’s just once race. I’m still young. I still have a lot of time.”