David Oliver: “It is all about the gold medal”

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US sprint hurdler David Oliver has endured a difficult couple of years but is back in 2013 as the fastest sprint hurdler in the world. SPIKES chats to the big man about getting lean, taking Wednesdays off, and Moscow gold on August 12th. 

It was only three seasons ago, but it could well have been a lifetime, since David Oliver was the undisputed king of the 110m hurdles. That year Oliver was invincible. He won all 15 finals in his specialist event, four times dipping below 13 seconds, and set a world leading time of 12.89: fourth in the all-time rankings.

He looked set to dominate for the foreseeable future, but a combination of persistent injury coupled with the rise of fellow US athletes Jason Richardson, and even more spectacularly Aries Merritt, has seen the big shouldered Oliver fall from the summit of his event.

Returning to form this year, Oliver, 31, has clocked a faster time, 13.03, than anyone else in 2013. 

“So far I don’t have any complaints,” he says, with a typically upbeat tone. “The only thing that mattered was making it on that plane to Russia [he finished runner-up at the US trials behind Ryan Wilson]. I’m definitely in a better position health-wise than the past couple of seasons. I don’t have any problems or issues.”

Raised in Denver, and based in Florida, the 1.88m (6ft 2ins) Oliver won Olympic 100m bronze in Beijing and world indoor 60m hurdles bronze two years later.

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Back in form: Oliver at the star-studded US Championships in June

Those problems and issues surfaced during the 2011 indoor season. Oliver had started the campaign in outstanding form, recording a 60mH PB 7.37 to climb to joint sixth all-time, until re-injuring a troublesome left calf in Karlsruhe.

This problem caused him to skip the rest of the indoor season, and although he went on to land the US title and run 12.94 in Eugene that year, he was far from his best at the World Championships in Daegu, finishing fourth.

The injury curse of his calf struck again in 2012, and he picked up a problem between the semi-finals and final of the US Olympic Trials. He finished fifth in the final: 0.09 off a qualification spot for London 2012. 

“It was pretty tough,” he says. “But I don’t really think of anything as too devastating. It is something that happens. I knew what the parameters of the competition were. It was finish in the top three. I didn’t do that.”

With sunny optimism that befits his huge smile, Oliver returned to training, worked hard, and finished the season strongly: running a season’s best 13.07 to finish as world number four in 2012.

He vowed 2013 would be different, and sought a fresh approach to keep his body fresh. The new-model Oliver takes every Wednesday off.

Also, and you wouldn’t guess it from looking at him, the biggest change has come by leaving the weights room alone. By trimming down his body frame, it puts less pressure on his calf.

“I’ve not lifted weights in the traditional sense all year long,” he says.

“I’ve cut that out of my training completely. I feel I’m strong enough and making that move has allowed me to stay strong and healthy. I haven’t missed a day’s training through injury. When you get to the age of 30, you have to make those changes if you want to prolong your career.”

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Do you even lift, bro? Oliver at the London Anniversary Games last month

A lighter hurdler by about eight pounds, he now weighs in at around 207 pounds (94kg), and things are looking good. After his world-leading 13.03 to win in Lausanne he also triumphed in London. In other Diamond League events, he placed third in Paris and Eugene, respectively, and was fourth in Shanghai.

So how close to his best does Oliver reckon he is?

“I’m getting there. It is still a process but at the moment I think I’m the most consistent hurdler. I’ve been consistent, and since Beijing (a race on May 21st), my slowest time has been 13.20.”

Besides ditching the weights and enjoying more rest he believes that technically he is cleaner hurdler. “You don’t see seven or eight hurdles laying on the ground like you used to,” he says.

Yet work still needs to be done. Hurdlers are notorious tinkerers and Oliver is not satisfied.

“I don’t know why, but my trail leg is not coming through as fast as it should be,” he says. ‘That is something I’ve been trying to address and make some adjustments for the World Championships.”

And what about his goals for Moscow?

“It is all about the gold medal: that’s it,” he says. “If you are not striving for the gold then you need to pick something else to do. It is all about winning. I’ve ran 12 seconds something and lost. I’ve ran 13.2 and won a Grand Prix Final. It is not about times, but about coming across that line first on August 12.”