AMONG THE MANY STADIUM RECORDS — 15 in all — broken at the USATF Golden Games, no other had withstood an extended test of time like the 400H mark Rai Benjamin took down with a 47.13 in his first lap over the barriers in 19 months.
Edwin Moses’ 47.89 Hilmer Lodge Stadium standard had stood through 41-plus seasons since the ‘79 U.S. Championships back when Moses, the greatest full-lap hurdler ever, had as yet set just 2 WRs and was less than two full years into his 9-year-9-month-9-day 107-meet unbeaten streak.
When the LA-based Benjamin — whose opportunity to slay the Moses mark faced some unavoidable delay during Hilmer Lodge’s reconstruction over the last 3 years — at last took his shot, as it turns out, he got a small assist from Moses.
“It was funny,” Benjamin said after churning a time 0.03 faster than his previous season-best opener, in ’19, “because I was on a Zoom call with [Moses] a few weeks ago and we were just talking shop with a bunch of other people about race and competitive mentality. So that was pretty awesome that he shared some gems with me, what he did in his race. And I tried to incorporate some of it in my practices and stuff like that. So it’s pretty awesome that, you know, things just come full circle.”
By ’79 Moses, who turned 24 later that summer, had already won an Olympic gold. With a like agenda in mind, Benjamin, who’ll also reach 24 just before the Tokyo Games, gave his world-leading run a quality assessment.
“It was pretty good actually,” Benjamin said, manifestly unshocked by the time, the fastest ever run in May or earlier. “I knew where I was at, so I had an idea where I should be right now, but I’m just happy to come out. There’s a lot of things I need to work on, running that first half of the race, but I thought I came out and competed well today, ran the race to the best of my ability, and thankfully I got to run a fast time.”
With a 44.97 flat 400 under his belt two weeks earlier at the USATF GP after an indoor PR 45.39 in February, Benjamin felt little in the way of stomach butterflies before jumping back into the hurdles and recording the No. 3 time of his career (see chart).
“You know, the question was there,” he said. “We had spoken about it in the team camp. We didn’t run any races at all 400 hurdle-wise in 2020. We focused on the flat. So it’s just a matter this year of just getting back into the rhythm and getting races under us. That was the first one.
“The 400 hurdles is like muscle memory. You know, really, I’m a rhythm guy — I know some guys count [steps] — so once I get that rhythm down I’m fine.”
So what does the aforementioned “a lot to work on” mean? “The whole race in its entirety,” Benjamin answered. “I’m trying to slow down that first 200 because I’ve been 12-stepping a lot at practice. It’s more prominent now that I’m stronger and faster. So I’m trying to keep that strategy of running 13s all around instead of 12s. So I’m really working on that right now a lot.”
In pandemic-schmozzled ’20, Benjamin and coach Quincy Watts, along with training mate Michael Norman, found aspects to work on also — with a touch more specificity after C19 restrictions loosened enough to gain them some track access.
“Obviously it wasn’t the best year,” Benjamin said. “There were some things we wanted to do in 2019 speed-wise that we could not do because of the volume of training that we were doing. And there were some injuries here and there in 2019 that got into affecting the way we trained speed-wise.
“So as soon as we had access [to training facilities] Coach Watts asked us, ‘Hey, what do you guys want to do?’
“Me and Mike always joke about running a 100 and stuff like that. And [Watts] was just like, ‘You know what? There’s some stuff that we needed to work on [in 2019] that we couldn’t.’”
As in top-end speed. So Benjamin and Norman traveled to Texas in July and raced an all-out 100. Benjamin dropped his wind-legal best from 10.69, run in ’15, down to 10.03. “And I feel like I got to learn what it was like running the 100.”
The dash is quite a subject to master in Benjamin’s estimation: “There’s so much more that goes into running the 100 than just going out there. I feel like a lot of people think they just go out there and they just run all out to 100 meters. That’s not the case. There’s a lot of detail, a lot of technical stuff that you have to focus on in order to be able to distribute power going forward and maintaining that power going down the track.”
And that has application to the 400H too, per Benjamin: “I think it worked a lot in my advantage because now I can kind of see how, even at practice, when I’m doing certain things, how I can get out of the blocks faster, turn over faster if I needed to turn the tempo up a little bit without really straining as much as I did before.
“So I mean, it helped a lot to do that that year, but it’s definitely a process and it’s not an easy process, and it’s a process that could get you hurt as well, is what I’ve realized — if you’re not careful, if you’re not doing things the smart way.”
Like prime rivals Karsten Warholm and Abderrahmane Samba Benjamin, with his 46.98 PR, gets the World Record question wherever he goes. He answers dutifully.
“I’m not thinking about it a lot,” he said when asked yet again after the 47.13. “I think in 2019 I got caught up in the whole hype of running that World Record. And then, you know, I was chasing a time instead of trying to run my best race and in doing so I failed at running as fast as I possibly could in 2019.
“But I mean, by no means am I counting out this time. It’s a fantastic indicator for a season opener after not running the race for a year. So, you know, the sky is like honestly the limit, to be honest. So we’ll see what happens at the end of the season.”
For his next race, Benjamin said, “I’m going to Doha [the DL meet on May 28]. So I’m getting a hot one in. I think Samba will be there. So I’m going back to Doha again for round 2. I like it there. There is something about that country that just, you know, it’s just interesting to me.
“So Doha at the end of this month. So I think in two weeks we’ll head out and we’ll see what happens there too. Hopefully I run another fast time and then from there on we’re at Trials.”