“We’re not friends and we’re not trying to hold each other’s hands and make cupcakes,” explains Danielle Carruthers, “And so when you get on the line, we don’t like each other. We respect one another, but we don’t like each other at that time. This is our job, this is what we do and we’re not trying to lose.”
The women’s 100-meter Hurdles is arguably track and field’s most competitive event and recent 2011 World Championship Silver Medalist, Danielle Carruthers knows it well now world ranked as the event’s second best sprint hurdler. “There’s a lot of history there; there’s a lot aggression there. There have been times that people have beat up on me in races and then I have beat up on them. You know that these people are talented but they’re also beatable,” states Carruthers who equates her event to “the new tennis . . . we grunt, we growl, over the hurdles; we talk to each other; you can see people hitting themselves and we take that up to the track . . . and when we run against each other, no one gives up. We are trying to get every little fraction of a second to win, because we know that’s what it takes to win.”
In past seasons, Carruthers had been on the losing end of ‘every little fraction of a second’ when she missed making the U.S. Olympic Team in 2008 by .04 seconds and just missed the medal stand by .01 seconds at the World Indoor Championships in 2006. “I needed to see a sports psychologist,” reveals Carruthers, “Because I had been at those trials; I was there and didn’t make the team, or those championships that I missed it by a hundredth of a second.” Carruthers had run a personal best time of 7.88 seconds in the 60mH finishing fourth at the 2006 World Indoor Championships in Moscow. “You start to think well maybe I just can’t pull it together.”
But in 2011 Carruthers did manage to conquer her doubts and anxieties putting together a spectacular season running 10 sub-13 principal races and securing her first medal at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. “It’s one of those situations I always tell myself, I’m either going to ‘get down or I’m going to lay down.’ I was like the Incredible Hulk, I was just so angry, breathing hard and pacing back and forth … and when the gun went off it was just pure aggression. I ran with my heart; I ran with everything and then when I crossed the line … I knew I had definitely medaled. Everything I had done in training the whole year, I did it that day,” surmises Carruthers.
Ironically, Carruthers reveals experiencing a new anxiety just prior to her personal best performance of 12.47 seconds on September 3rd at 9pm from Lane 6. “I was laying on the table kind of getting worked on [and] I felt like I was having a heart attack! [My mind] went from one thought to a million thoughts, just from the standpoint of like my block start, execution … can I keep my energy levels up from hurdles one to ten? It was a lot of things to be rushing my brain. I pulled myself back together and went out did everything [my coach] told me to do.”
Carruthers only learned after the race that her compatriot, the event’s reigning Olympic Gold Medalist, Dawn Harper, also crossed the line in 12.47 seconds. “I didn’t know that Dawn Harper was as close to me as she was; I was just looking straight ahead, I was just so excited. For your first time to make a team like that and go there and get a medal and do pretty much exactly what was predicted of you, is amazing,”
Finally finding herself on the winning side of that previously elusive ‘little fraction of a second’ Carruthers explains, “I was a different runner. I think back then I ran to my competition, where as now, with maturity and age, I don’t run like that anymore; I literally run my own race and I focus on me.”
And in keeping that focus on her lane, about two weeks later in Brussels, the now World’s Silver Medalist emerged as the Diamond Leagues 100-meter Hurdle Champion defeating Sally Pearson who clipped a hurdle and did not finish the race. “When she went down, it was like a part of my brain, it was like, ‘Oh my God what just happened?’ And the other part was like ‘no, keep running,” excitedly recalls Carruthers adding, “It was one of those situations like you say ‘anything can happen in the women’s hurdles’.” Pearson had just defeated Carruthers thirteen days prior winning the Gold at the World Championships and was the odds on favorite to win in Brussels. “The women’s hurdle race is very different from any other race. You can be in the greatest shape of your life, make one technical error, and the whole race is over,” explains Carruthers, “So you cannot go into races thinking this person is faster than me… so they’re going to win . . . because you never know what’s going to happen [and] I did get a pretty good start and just stayed on it; it was about execution and just being confident . . .and cash feels great! Especially coming from a situation a couple years ago I didn’t have any money.”
Prior to this season, Carruthers remained unsigned by a shoe company, but quickly became sponsored by Nike after delivering dominant race performances. “Here’s the reality,” states Carruthers, “You’re thought of in cycles; it’s four year cycles; are you going to be able to make an Olympic Team once your past 25 and really into your late 20’s, they’re really thinking you’re done. You really need to be in the 12.4’s, 12.5’s to make sure you have a spot on the team. So in order for you to get the attention of the shoe companies . . . it’s going to take . . . you winning and you winning the right races.”
One of those ‘right’ races was at the Adidas Grand Prix in June at Randall’s Island in New York where Carruthers took first place with an impressive time of 13.04 in rainy, cold weather conditions. “What people don’t know about that race it was like a -3.7 headwind. That’s extremely hard to run in especially when you are trying to go into a barrier and keep that same momentum…and I basically ran like a crazy person screaming from hurdle one to the last hurdle and I didn’t stop screaming until I crossed the line. That race…set me up mentally for the US Nationals,” says Carruthers.
The men’s 100m that day, which saw Jamaica’s Steven Mullings narrowly defeat Tyson Gay, was equally as memorable for its finish as its start, or perhaps starts. The event saw three sprinters ejected for false starting before establishing a clean, legal start. “There’s two sides to that,” says Carruthers, “the one side is the ‘no- false’ start rule was put in place because people abused it. There is a race schedule and there is TV time. One, TV time, it messes it up. Two, it’s not fair to your competitors, if you get that one great start out and someone false starts on purpose, then there goes your start. From that side, it makes a fair playing field for everybody. Get in the blocks, get set, don’t leave them. If you move out of the blocks you will be thrown out of the race, that’s the good side. But the other side of it is, in a situation like the World Championships, where money is on the line. When you are in that situation and your just nervous, and maybe, your foot comes off the blocks … a little bit … and then your thrown out of the race…your opportunity to run, to get a medal, to please the stadium, please the fans is gone. So that’s the down side to it. For me I’m still in the middle about it.”
And Carruthers has enjoyed pleasing the fans at New York’s only other track meet, the legendary Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden, which after 104 runnings, will for the first time, call the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory in Washington Heights home on February 11th of 2012. “The thing about Millrose is ... it’s one of the few races that we have in the United States that mirror races like in Europe,” explains Carruthers, “You feel like a professional athlete. I’m going to miss that type of energy, you stayed next to Madison Square Garden, it’s unfortunate that it had to move.”
And of those European meets, Carruthers finds particular favor with the Great City Games in Manchester. “I love those track meets from the standpoint that you are with the people. It takes you back to your roots of running for me. It’s an easy way to get people to watch a track meet. And to me, it’s an easy way to get awareness about the sport. Literally you can put your hand out and touch somebody. We need that in the United States because the awareness of track and field is just not there,” states Carruthers.
“I can only speak on the women’s 100mH and it’s a skill, it’s a craft, and it takes a while to learn it properly,” concludes Carruthers, “So when we get on that line, we are very competitive because a lot of us have had to do a lot to stay in the sport to be able to get to this point. So it’s all about respect. I respect everybody I compete against. And I’m sure like everybody else, we’re here to win. No one came here to lose.”