Bol’s Indoor AOY Season Sets Enticing Hurdles Table

Femke Bol’s coach reminds that his charge has “won every single gold medal that you can win but the Olympic gold medal. Yet she has this occasion this summer.” (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

WHAT WILL IT TRANSLATE TO outdoors? When Femke Bol — an easy choice to repeat as Indoor Women’s Athlete Of The Year — wrapped up her World Championships weekend in Glasgow having pocketed two golds and improved the 400 WR for a third time since February of ’23, an encouraging golden echo was set resonating.

The WIC came off much as the ’23 European Indoor had, except with faster times by Bol throughout the three rounds of the 400. As at the ’23 continental clash in İstanbul, training mate Lieke Klaver captured 2nd in the two-lapper. Glasgow capped another superb indoor campaign for the group guided by Netherlands 400/long hurdles/relay coach Laurent Meuwly.

After her 400 trade up to gold from silver 2 years ago in Belgrade, Bol assessed, “Today the main goal was to win, but I knew I had to put up a great race. I had to do a fast opening, which is always a bit harder for me than it looks so I just gave it my all and I was so happy to win.

“And then I found out I also had the World Record again, and yeah, it’s amazing. I already had [the record], but to run it at the time when it counts with two races in the legs from yesterday, it’s happy and I’m proud of myself.”

Bol on those Glasgow golds: “This is great because I’ve not done hurdles for four weeks and it gives me confidence.”

Bol still had two rounds of the relay in front of her as she fielded questions, yet the queries to the 400H world titlist were already taking a turn toward racing over the sticks in the Paris Olympic year. Are the hurdles still her focus?

“Yes, still on the hurdles,” said Bol, the reigning World Champion in the event and ’23’s No. 1 World Ranker. “I’m really missing them and I’ll soon be back. I mean, I must say I like indoors a bit more than outdoors.”

Interesting. “But yeah, it’s just great to race,” she added. “It’s great to get some information from this. It will help me for the 400 hurdles. And I just enjoy racing and enjoying this race, the tournament [meet] and the atmosphere.”

That attitude is just one of many contrasts with Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone — until she’s dethroned the duly crowned queen of the lap hurdles.

Since Tokyo bronze medalist Bol captured silver in the wake of SML’s third World Record at the ’22 Worlds in Eugene, the Dutchwoman has run 38 individual races (not counting relay heats and finals). In that string just a single loss — in the Netherlands Champs 200 final last July. In that same period, McLaughlin-Levrone, in keeping with coach Bobby Kersee’s longstanding approach, has competed just 7 times (heats and finals) putting 5 meets under her belt.

Granted, McLaughlin-Levrone reported an injury last summer and shut down her season early a month before Budapest. Still, it’s hard to imagine hearing the WR holder declare, “It’s just great to race.” Not if Kersee is listening, anyway.

Different strokes — and manifestly, when McLaughlin-Levrone races her results are spectacular.

Certainly, though, the stage is set. A prospective Bol/SML showdown in Paris stirs the blood — and does not require writing off the likes of Shamier Little, Dalilah Muhammad, Britton Wilson, great hurdlers, also, young and older.

Meuwly is Swiss and 49 years old. He’s been in the elite coaching game for 25 years and was lured on to the Netherlands national staff before the Doha ’19 World Championships. In Glasgow, he reminded broadcast interviewers, “It’s amazing to be so consistent on the highest level. I’m not sure if people realize that [Bol] is 24 and she won every single gold medal that you can win but the Olympic gold medal. Yet she has this occasion this summer.”

What might an Olympic rematch in Paris look like? (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Bol and McLaughlin-Levrone are the same age, peers in that aspect though the American comes at it from the precocious jump start of having reached the Rio Olympic semis less than a week after her 17th birthday.

In Doha 5 years ago while McLaughlin-Levrone was winning Worlds silver with the then-second-fastest all-time clocking, Bol was just negotiating her first season in the 400H. She won the Euro Junior title, she reached the World Champs semis and PRed at 55.32 in her heat. No U20 athlete has run faster since and Bol is still No. 15 on the Junior ATL.

Those achievements 5 years ago earned her financial support and a national team apartment. Now a 2-time Dutch Sportswoman Of The Year honoree, Bol, speaking with a TV interviewer at last fall’s Sports Gala awards show, shared memories of attending the ’19 edition with her apartment mate, heptathlete Emma Oosterwegel:

“I remember we had to walk the red carpet then, but we ran halfway across it because nobody wanted anything from us. Then we sat in the hall and I enjoyed those evenings so much. ‘Wow, those three nominees, they have achieved such great things this year.’ And now I am one of those nominees. In fact, I’m the winner. And yes, it is sometimes very strange to realize.”

Bol also earned the past two European Athletics Woman AOY trophies. She walked that awards event’s red carpet last fall with partner Ben Broeders, Belgium’s No. 9 pole vault World Ranker for ’23.

The ’20 Covid lockdown year bonded Bol tightly into her national team’s sprint/relays squad: “We were always friends but during Corona our training group — almost all of the athletes of the relay teams were together — became much closer,” a mutual spirit-lifting cohort with nothing to do but become better at hurdling and baton passing.

It paid off at Tokyo 2021 when Bol’s bronze medal performance in the greatest yet Olympic 400H final rocketed her to No. 3 all-time in the event and raised her profile forever.

Bol admits her calm on that Games starting line was momentarily rocked when she spotted Netherlands chef de mission Pieter van den Hoogenband in the nearly empty stadium. But she pushed off the weight of perceived expectations. She reminded herself that soon-to-be triple Olympic medalist Sifan Hassan would be racing a 1500 semi later that day. Surely 3-time swimming gold medalist van den Hoogenband had come to watch Hassan.

The moment had come, Bol told herself, to release “Killer Fem” — her race day alter ego, the nickname coined by Meuwly.

After Killer Fem came through for the medal, having run even with McLaughlin-Levrone for most of the race, Bol bought a Porsche and a Gucci handbag, but says she otherwise keeps life simple.

So what might Bol’s banner winter ’24 results presage? Following her ’23 Indoor AOY season, she strode forward dramatically in the hurdles. The verb “strode” is apt. Having taken 15 steps between hurdles in her podium summers of ’21 and ’22, last May at a meet in Oordegem, she unveiled a new race plan in progress — 14 strides between barriers alternating legs to hurdle 7, and then 15 — leading with her left leg — for hurdles 8–10.

McLaughlin-Levrone has switched lead legs in races but typically not, and perhaps never, for 7 hurdles at a stretch.

For Bol, who is 6-½ (146), 4 inches taller than the WR holder, the Oordegem race was rocky, reportedly with one stumble, yet the 53.12 time was her fastest opener yet. She went faster in three of her next four races and utterly dominated at the London DL with 51.45. Only McLaughlin-Levrone has run faster. Gold in Budapest, and also in the 4×4 followed

Building upon her No. 1-Ranked ’23, Bol with Meuwly now intends to graft on the benefits of her most successful winter so far.

In Glasgow NBC’s Lewis Johnson asked Bol if what she’d done indoors will help her hurdling. “I think for sure,” she replied. “We wanted to work on my speed for the first 200, and indoors, I have no choice. I have to open fast or I have to overtake a lot of people, so it’s always nice to do this.

“But of course hurdles is something different. It’s rhythm, it’s technique, so you never know straight away that if one goes well, the other goes well. But it shows training is going good that I’m fit, so I’m happy.”