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One Hurdle Down, More To Go

By Karen Rosen | July 17, 2013, 5 p.m. (ET)

Ryan Wilson competes in the semifinal of the men's 110m hurdles at
the 2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Drake
Stadium on June 23, 2013 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Hurdler Ryan Wilson wasn’t thinking about his time in the usual sense as he crossed the finish line last month at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Your first thought is always to check and see what the time was, but oddly enough, I didn’t actually think about that,” Wilson said.

“Honestly, my first thought was just, ‘Finally.’”

Not only had the 32-year-old Wilson won his first major 110-meter hurdles title since capturing the NCAA crown in 2003, but also he qualified for his first important international team.

“I definitely feel like it’s my time,” he said.

Wilson will lead one of the strongest groups of Team USA hurdlers ever assembled to the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, set for Aug. 10-18.

Clocking 13.08 seconds at nationals, Wilson defeated former American-record holder David Oliver (13.11), world-record holder and reigning Olympic champion Aries Merritt (13.23) and defending world champ and Olympic silver medalist Jason Richardson (13.24). All four will go to Moscow because Richardson reserved an automatic berth as world champion.

“I’ve waited a long time for this,” said Wilson, a native of Westerville, Ohio, who now lives in Los Angeles. “I want to be able to say that I have been a champion at every level. I’ve been a state champion, NCAA champ, now a national champion. I want to be a world champion.”

Wilson also has the rare distinction of coaching another member of Team USA: Nia Ali, the third qualifier in the women’s 100-meter hurdles. Wilson just completed his first year as a volunteer assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Southern California, where he coached Ali and NCAA 400-meter hurdles champion Reggie Wyatt.

“Nia dropped a quarter of a second off her time and made the team, and that was the most thrilling thing ever,” Wilson said. “Watching her was more exciting than me making the team or winning.”

Ali’s final was one day before Wilson’s. “She was like, ‘You gotta turn it up, you gotta represent,’” he said. “I knew she wouldn’t be happy if she made the team and I didn’t, and I knew that I had to follow her performance with a better performance.”

Wilson is no overnight sensation, more an overlooked one.

Ryan Wilson celebrates winning the men's 110m hurdles final at the
2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium
on June 23, 2013 in Des Moines, Iowa.

For six of the last seven years, Wilson posted times that ranked in the top 10 among U.S. performers. His personal best of 13.02 seconds, which he ran in 2007, is No. 12 on the all-time U.S. list.

In 2006, Wilson finished third at nationals, but there was no Olympic or world team. That was again the case in 2010, when he placed second.

“So much about sports is about timing,” Wilson said. “I’m glad that this time my performance matched up with the right year.”

In 2007, he came into the U.S. championships on the strength of that sizzling 13.02, but his groin cramped in the final as soon as the starter said, “On your marks.”

“I came out of the blocks, and couldn’t even clear hurdle 1,” Wilson said. “I crashed out, so that was one devastatingly unfortunate incident.”

At the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, he was hampered by a sports hernia and didn’t reach the final. The following year, Wilson tore his hamstring as he crossed the line in his last meet before nationals. He continued to compete, but wasn’t at his best.

“You would never know a lot of these things happened to me because I wasn’t in the spotlight and I didn’t talk about them,” Wilson said. “I’ve watched a lot of different championships knowing that I could have been there.”

Watching the London 2012 Olympic Games, he said, “was the worst, knowing that I had messed up such a great opportunity, and an opportunity that only comes around once every four years.”
At the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore., Wilson was almost even with Merritt and just ahead of Richardson — in great position to make the team and run his first race under 13 seconds.
“I hit hurdle 7 and that took me out of the race,” Wilson said.

Wilson finished seventh. “I still can’t help but physically shake my head when I think about that race,” he said.

Following last season, Wilson lost his sponsor of two years, Saucony. That put him back where he was from 2007-2010, when he had no sponsor and his income was dependent on his prize money.

“It was disappointing, but to me there’s a bright side,” Wilson said. “I got to go back to wearing the uniforms that I like to wear, gym shorts and glorified tank tops. I’m an artist, so I put together different color combinations when I step on the track. I have fun with that, make the best of it.”

Thanks to his national title, though, Wilson is negotiating to land a sponsorship deal, possibly before he runs in the Diamond League meet in London (July 26-28). He also supports his family — wife, Stephanie, son, Stacks, 3 ½, and a baby due at the end of the year – with freelance graphic design work.

So far this season, Oliver has run the fastest time in the world of 13.03 seconds, followed by Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment at 13.05 and Wilson and Orlando Ortega of Cuba at 13.08.

Wilson said he feels that he can go faster. “For sure, I think I can challenge the world record (12.80),” he said. “I’ve thought that for a long time.”

Ryan Wilson talks with the press after competing at the 2013 USA
Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium on
June 23, 2013 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Two years ago, he changed his step pattern before the first hurdle from eight steps to seven, following the example set by Oliver, Merritt and Richardson.

“I watched these guys all drop about two-tenths of a second,” said Wilson, who is known for his strong finishes, “and I said to myself, ‘I had a faster PR than all of these guys when they made their switches, so if I drop two-tenths, it would be 12.82.’

“So that was very motivating.”

Wilson is not concerned that he’s the oldest of the bunch — he’ll be 33 in December — and has statistics to back him up.

“There’s plenty of precedent for people running fast into their 30s,” Wilson said, citing times run by Roger Kingdom, Colin Jackson, Allen Johnson and Dominique Arnold. “I’ve never envisioned myself as being a guy who would peak young. I’ve always known that I would have longevity in sport.”

Wilson said his body is holding up fine, thank you.

“People have been asking how I feel, and I feel better than I’ve ever felt, to be honest,” Wilson said. “I set PRs in practice. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and I’m definitely smarter and more experienced.
“All those things combined make for a lot of confidence.”

Growing up, Wilson thought he was better suited for the 400-meter hurdles, even envisioning himself in the Olympic Games in that event.

“I’m not naturally super-fast or quick; that’s something I’ve had to cultivate,” he said. “Throughout college, I think I started to fall in love with the speed and the intensity of the 110 hurdles. There’s just so much happening in such a small amount of time.”

Yet while Wilson said he never considered quitting the 110 hurdles, his coach, UCLA’s Darrell Smith, would joke that he should go back to the longer event.

“My family, too, was wondering if maybe I should go to the 400 hurdles,” Wilson said. “Why didn’t I? I think because people are wondering why I didn’t quit. It’s because I know what I’m capable of and I know I haven’t done what I’m capable of.

“I’m just not done with the 110 hurdles,” he added. “I haven’t conquered the demons that are in front of me.”

Karen Rosen is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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