T&FN Interview Reboot — Kerron Clement (June 2008)

“In the hurdles, you have to train like an 800 runner, or even a miler” (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

FOR THE JUNE 2008 issue of T&FN, Jon Hendershott interviewed 400 hurdler Kerron Clement. World champion at the time, Clement repeated as global titlist in 2009 and is the reigning Olympic champion after racing to gold in Rio. Since sitting down for Hendershott’s interview, Clement, who competed as recently as last year’s USATF Champs, has merited 8 additional World Rankings, including No. 1s in ’08, ’09 and ’16.

With no meets to report on during the current COVID-19 competition lockdown, we’ll be rebooting more content from years past. Our full T&FN Interview Archive, with most of the offerings in PDF form, may be found here.

Ever since Kerron Clement won the World Junior title in ’04, he was tabbed for global greatness over the 1-lap barriers.

He has certainly had the speed, as shown by an indoor WR 400 of 44.57 in ’05. But his sometimes-shaky technique, which could lead to his stutter-stepping up to the homestretch hurdles, raised questions.

But last year, still just 21, he erased a lot of doubts as he took the World Championships gold in Osaka. Still, that was the only one of his 11 finals he won all year. Consistency remains an issue.

Last fall Clement moved from Florida to Southern California to work with noted coach Bobby Kersee. Their twofold goals are simple—make the U.S. Olympic team and then win in Beijing:

T&FN: How has the training gone with Bobby as your coach?

Clement: Training is like really, really good. I’m very strong this year. I’ve been doing more mileage, like I used to do in high school. In high school I ran cross country and now I’m basically incorporating the same things, like long distance work. After practice, in the evening, Ginnie Powell and me will go for a run; 30 minutes or run several miles on the track. (Continued below)

T&FN: How is this different from what you did at Florida with Mike Holloway?

Clement: It’s not that much of a drastic change. At Florida, we also did the 600s, 800s. But with Bobby, it’s more intense. So I feel stronger now.

T&FN: In your IAAF Diary back as early as January, you wrote that you started training wearing spikes. Is that a departure from what you did at Florida?

Clement: Actually, yes. Then, we would get into spikes in maybe February. Here I wasn’t used to putting on spikes early, but I felt I had to trust his program and I did and things have been going good. I’m extremely fast. And we do a combination of sprints and endurance in the same day. So it’s working out well.

T&FN: Does some of that work include you going over hurdles?

Clement: Yes, in some of the repetitions we come back and do maybe the last 150 over hurdles. So we’re trying to duplicate what’s going to happen in a race when you’re tired.

T&FN: What made you decide you wanted to start training now with Bobby? It’s an Olympic year and many athletes don’t change anything in a Games year. What was behind your decision?

Clement: I just felt it was time to move on. I had been at Florida for four years and just felt it was time.
People asked why I didn’t move in a year like ’06 when there weren’t any title meets, but I didn’t feel then was the time. I felt I should wait. But I knew I would leave regardless, whether I won the World Championships or not.

T&FN: Has some, or a lot, of the strength work been aimed at correcting the stutter-stepping problem you have had in the past? Has that been a concern for both you and Bobby?

Clement: Well, not really. I’m also working on switching my lead legs over the hurdles. I had worked on that in Florida, but I never really did it in a race.
Now I’m working more on my left leg, my off-leg, trying to feel the movement of it. Running while fatigued in practice while jumping with the off-leg. I’m naturally a right-leg leader.

T&FN: What have you and Bobby done to address the problem of chopping your stride at the last couple of hurdles?

Clement: We have talked several times. He said that in the 400 hurdles, there are zones you have to be aware of and what I need to look out for and what I need to concentrate on. I’m more aware of my positions when I’m running into the hurdles. I know where I have to be. Bobby’s very technical on that side of things.

T&FN: So the whole stride thing, has it been a matter of confidence, of training, just gaining experience running the race or what?

Clement: Actually, it’s matter of all those things. And also strength. In the hurdles, you have to train like an 800 runner, or even a miler. Right now, early in the spring, I’m training like a miler.
Coach is really bringing us down, as far as pushing us to our limits. You have to know how to recover from the lactic acid and come back the next day and do it again. We once did more than two weeks of just intense strength work. I was just laid out, I was so exhausted.
Bobby tested us to see just how far our bodies could go. But it just prepared me. I feel like this is my year and I’m really ready and I’m really strong.

T&FN: When you do encounter the chopping problem in the final stretch, you’re going from 13 strides down to 15?

Clement: Yes, when I’m changing my strides to stay on my correct lead leg, my right.

T&FN: You admitted after the ’05 Worlds final that you didn’t run hard on the run-in after the final hurdle. Has all the strength work you’ve done been aimed at remedying that? And also working on your psychology of, “I can drive hard off the last hurdle”?

Clement: Yes. Many days, regardless of the distance we run, the point is to run through the line. Helsinki in ’05 was a learning experience; I was only 19. But kids will see that and realize, “This isn’t how I should do it.” [laughs]

T&FN: As disappointing as Helsinki was, was it the best way for you to learn that lesson?

Clement: I truly think it was. I feel that I probably wouldn’t have been as hungry as I was in Osaka. I believe that God works in mysterious ways and makes things happen in ways to open up your eyes so you can see a certain picture.
For me, the bigger picture was Osaka. I became hungrier and I also feel that Osaka helped prepare me for the coming Olympics. (Continued below)

T&FN: Back in ’04 when you were a freshman at Florida, you won the NCAA title, then decided not to go to the Olympic Trials but went to the U.S. Juniors instead. Ultimately, you won the World Juniors in the hurdles and anchored the winning 4×4. That must have been a tremendously valuable experience to get at the age of 18.

Clement: I felt that I made a good decision to go to the Junior meets, because I had never run especially internationally before. I felt that if I was ever to go to the Olympics, I had to win the Juniors. I wasn’t ready for the Trials or Games at that time.

I have a winner’s mentality and if I had gone to the Olympics then, I would have felt that I had to win. So I decided it was better to go to the World Juniors, test out the international competition and see what it was like. Then when I’m ready, I’ll go to the Olympics. And today is now. But things happen for a reason. You can sometimes question things, but I certainly don’t.

T&FN: Just like your move to the U.S. from Trinidad. You were 13 in ’98 when your family moved, but why did they decide to come here?

Clement: It was basically for a better education. But also a grandmother, my mom’s mother, had lived here for some time and it was also to keep her company. We went to LaPorte, Texas, and better education was a major reason.

T&FN: How did you get interested in track?

Clement: When I was younger, I used to run with my brother. But it was never really into track like knowing about Michael Johnson or Carl Lewis. I just ran because it came to me and it was like a passion for me. It wasn’t until high school that I started learning who were the big names.

T&FN: What drew you to the hurdles?

Clement: In junior high, I tried the hurdles once and I had perfect form. The coach watched me and thought I had potential. He took me to the high school and worked on my form with the high school kids. I just got better and developed.

T&FN: When did your talent in the flat 400 begin to blossom? When you went to Florida?

Clement: Yes, coach Holloway is a great sprint coach and he brought out that talent in me. As you could see, in ’05 when I broke the [indoor 400] World Record, everybody was shocked—including myself. [laughs] I certainly didn’t expect to run that fast. But it opened a lot of doors. That’s when I signed with Nike.

T&FN: It’s rare that other 400 hurdlers have your kind of flat speed. Maybe only Angelo Taylor does. How does having that kind of speed affect you in the hurdles? In Osaka you said, “Yes, I have the speed but I also have 10 hurdles to clear.”

Clement: It’s an advantage and a disadvantage. The disadvantage is, when I run too fast, I come up too close to the hurdle. So I have to back off in the last half of the race. That causes me to stutter-step. So I have to take more control of my speed.

The advantage is I can actually be in 2nd-place off the last hurdle but then come in 1st. Run people down in the finish, which I’m known for. I’m working on that and also my steps and just trying to make everything perfect for the Olympics.

T&FN: You have said you’ve had to be patient in your career. Has that been hard to do?

Clement: I’ve been patient for the past three, four years, since I’ve been a professional. Yet I really don’t question things when they happen, because I know they happen for a reason. When I was coming in 2nd place all of last year, I knew it was happening for a reason. I was like, “I’ll be patient, stay focused and I won’t let it affect me.” I always wondered when would I come in 1st.

Then the day came in Osaka and it was on the big stage. I realized that that was the plan. Sometimes God has to humble you so you can see what He would do. I’m a very spiritual person and I just rely on Him every single day. (Continued below)

T&FN: Have you really given any thought to how fast you would like to run in Beijing, other than fast enough to win? Or do you even worry about that right now?

Clement: Of course, there is the World Record. That is the ultimate goal for any 400 hurdler. I would love to PR in other events. I love running the 200, and of course the 400. I’d like to run 44-flat or better this season. In the 200, who knows?

T&FN: Might the hurdles as an event somehow reflect who Kerron Clement is as an individual?

Clement: That’s a hard question. Some people have said that maybe I’m in the wrong event since I’m so fast. The 400 comes so easily for me. But I personally like the 400 hurdles because they are a challenge.

Is it who I am? Right now, yes, because that’s what I do. People know me as a hurdler and I’ve made my reputation mostly in them. I like them—but I also would like to make my name in the 400 as well. ◻︎