A Hurdler, High and Low

June 1, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Ethan Holmes’s versatility as a hurdler has made him the only collegian in the nation to qualify for the NCAA Championships in both the 400-meter and 110-meter highs.

In the sport of track and field, hurdles are not just hurdles; there is a colossal difference between the two events. The 10 obstacles in the 400 are set 36 inches above ground. Competitors take between 13 and 16 strides between hurdles, alternating legs along the way. The 10 hurdles in the 110 highs are 42 inches off the ground. It helps to be tall in this event, with hurdlers taking three strides between hurdles, using the same leg to go over each barrier.

“That’s a pretty good feeling to be the only one in the nation doubling,” said Holmes, a native of Clinton, Iowa. “I’ve been having breakthroughs this year and I would say Big Tens was a huge breakthrough in the 110 highs (13.73 seconds and placing second to defending NCAA champion Andrew Riley of Illinois). Now it feels good to be hitting those 13s regularly.”

Holmes ran 13.93 at the Drake Relays, 13.94 and 13.73 at the Big Ten Championships and 13.8 on Saturday at the NCAA West Preliminary to grab the 12th and final qualifying spot to the NCAA Championships. In the 400 hurdle West Preliminary quarterfinal Friday, Holmes ran 50.70 to finish 12th and again grab the final qualifying position to the NCAA Championships.

“He has to be able to flip a switch because they are such different events,” UI hurdles coach Joey Woody said. “He’s good at knowing he has to be ready to run the high hurdles after running a 400 hurdle race. That says a lot when you’re the only guy in the nation who can step up and compete at a national level in both the high hurdles and the 400 hurdles.”

As a freshman at the 2010 Big Ten Championships in Bloomington, Ind., Holmes ran 53.98 in the 400 hurdles. That time was 14th out of 20 preliminary competitors and fourth on the UI team. This season Holmes has shaved nearly four seconds off that 2010 Big Ten preliminary time, developing into one of the most flexible hurdlers in the land.

“I’m healthy, that’s the biggest key,” Holmes said. “Last year I was battling a lot of injuries. The more you’re healthy you can train a lot harder, you can train a lot more and I got a lot more done in the weight room, too.”

“I can’t speak enough great praises to Ethan and what he’s done this year,” Woody said. “He was focused and committed all year to make sure he was going to be at this level at the end of the season. The future looks bright.”

The future begins Wednesday, June 8. Holmes competes in a 400 hurdle semifinal at 8:30 p.m. on June 8, and a 110 high hurdle semifinal at 7:10 p.m. on Thursday, June 9 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.

Holmes is more than a hurdler. He ran the second leg on the Hawkeye 4×400-meter relay that finished with the sixth-fastest time in the West Preliminary (3:07.58) on Saturday. The foursome of Patrick Richards, Holmes, Erik Sowinski and Steven Willey also qualified for nationals.

“It’s going to feel good to run on the blue oval,” said Holmes, who won two state titles and was runner-up five times on the Jim Duncan Track. “The crowd shows you a lot of love there. People come up to you and tell you good job and you don’t even know who they are. You’re thankful to have people like that come out and support the Hawkeyes.”