Devon Allen Joins the Sub 13 Club, Talks 110 Hurdles, NFL, and the Dream Football 100m Match-up

by LetsRun.com
October 2, 2021

Last month in the final race of his season, Devon Allen clocked 12.99 at the Boris Hanzekovic Memorial meet in Zagreb, Croatia to become the 22nd member of the sub 13 110m hurdle club. The race capped a tremendous end of the season for Allen who was fourth at the Olympics, as he also won the Diamond League final in Zurich.

A stellar two sport athlete (football and baseball) Allen burst on the scene at the University of Oregon where he won the NCAA and USATF 110m hurdle titles as a freshman in 2014. He then helped lead the Ducks to the national championship game in football where he was one of Marcus Mariotta’s leading receivers Mariotta’s Heisman Trophy year, before Allen blew out his knee on the first play of the national semi-final game (Rose Bowl).

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Allen would miss the 2015 track season, but come back in 2016 to run 13.03 and win USAs and make the 2016 Olympic team (where he finished 5th) before blowing out his other knee in the 2016 football season. Allen would comeback to run 13.10 in 2017 and make the Worlds team, but only run 13.23 in 2018 and 13.33 in 2019 (and make another Worlds team). That prompted Allen to return to his college coach Jamie Cook, who is now the Head Track and Field Coach at the Naval Academy. Covid shortened the 2020 season. Allen has a slow start to the 2021 season recovering from an injurty, but his 2021 season was very successful and ended with a bang.

Allen was the guest on the LetsRun.com Track Talk podcast which you can listen to on your favorite podcast app here or in the player below. Highlights of our talk (edited and condensed) typed up below.

LetsRun.com:  When you finished (the 12.99 race in Ostrava and 13.03 popped incorrectly on the screen), you pinched your fingers close together like you were really close. What are you thinking in a race like that. Do you know you are running really fast?

Devon Allen: Yeah, for sure.  The start I had is probably one of the better starts I’ve had this year just out of the blocks. And once I kind of went out in front against two guys that are very, very good, fast hurdlers, Hansle Parchmant and Ronald Levy, Olympic champion and an Olympic bronze medalist.

When I was out in front, I didn’t really feel them anymore. I was like, ‘oh man, this is going to be a fast one.’ So really in my head, I was just focused on just staying clean and kind of just finishing the race quick. And that’s pretty much what happened. Hurdle six, I kind of clipped and kinda got twisted a little bit.

So I think I could have run a little bit faster in that race as well, but overall it was a pretty, pretty  solid race for me.

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LetsRun.com: You were running really well at the end of the year, winning the Diamond League final and then running 12.99. How were you able to run so well at the end? Take us through the year.

I think it was a culmination of a few things. Overall I felt like I was ready to run really fast at the Olympics. I ran 13.10, twice at the Olympic trials, a month before, building up until the Olympic Games.

Then I ran 13.21 pretty comfortably, and 13.18 pretty comfortably in the rounds (at the Olympics). And then 13.14 in the final, which is not a slow time by any standards of 110 hurdling. So overall,  it was a pretty good meet for me. Obviously I would like to have competed a little bit better and win a medal or the gold medal.

We always talk about nine hundredths of a second to first place (Allen was .10 behind gold), only four hundreds of a second to third, so it’s a very, very close margin, especially in a whole race where you have barriers that can impede or mess you up. Overall the whole season was pretty, pretty good.

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[The season] it was pretty quick for me. I didn’t open up until April, at the Drake Relays and actually [just] ran the prelim race there just cause I was dealing with some injury stuff from 2020 early in the year (Editor’s note: Allen only ran 13.76 (-1.6) in that race). So I had to get that taken care of. So I didn’t really start training until about February, March 2021 just because I wasn’t really able to sprint yet and hurdle. So I was just trying to kind of get myself healthy enough and fit enough from September 2020 to about March. And then once that happened, once I felt good,  training went great, it was pretty much no real issues.

Once I started feeling good in May, I kinda went after it and then early June, I ran a couple of meets in Europe.

Just because I know how important it is for a hurdler to run in competitions [with] barriers in the way. You can try to mimic it in practice as much as you can, but until you run actual races, it’s hard to mimic. So as a hurdler, it’s super important to run like 10, 15, 20 races before a major competition.  

I think this year, I actually ended up running 22 races, total, which is kind of on the light side I would say, but overall the season was good. And then, you know, my last six races in Europe at the back end were probably the best in my career.

LetsRun.com: Talking about the Olympic final, what would you say to people who said Grant Holloway choked in the final?

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No real track athlete would say that because we all know the implication of an Olympic final and competing.

And to say that is taking away from the quality of the field really, right? Hansle Parchment, Olympic bronze medallist in  2012, he’s run 12.9 before. He’s won a lot of competitions, a lot of meets, world champion medalist. Ronald Levy, Commonwealth Games champ and had run very, very quick this year, and me, right? So that is like saying Grant should blow us out of the water every single race. Obviously, Grant has been probably the most consistent this season with 13.10s, 13.2s to 13.0s and then his 12.80 breakthrough at the Olympic trials.

But it’s still a lot of fast guys running. And I would argue to say that this was probably one of the faster years with just the number of people that have run like 13.1 and faster. I think there’s like six or seven, which is a lot.

No one would really say he choked. Obviously it’s still a competition. You’ve got to race. Hansle Parchment had an amazing race. He had one of the best starts of his life you know. He beat me to hurdle one which almost never happens just because he’s not one of the best starters and Grant Holloway is historically one of the best starters.

[Grant] ran a great race and is the Olympic silver medalist at 23 which is a lot more than I can say for myself. I feel like I should be a little bit further along with my career, but you know  sometimes you can’t really control what goes on with health and how things move throughout the seasons and stuff like that.

Overall, I would say he did a great job and kudos to him for running a great race. And I’m going to be ready to run fast next year, too. So it’s good for American hurdling that we have a lot of guys that are. 

Bursting onto the Scene in 2014

Looking back at your career, you came out of nowhere to win NCAAs and USAs a freshman in 2014? Talk about your improvement that year.

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My  freshman year in college, I thought I had to be ginormous to play college football. So my senior year in high school and that summer I put on a whole bunch of weight. I get to Oregon, I weighed like 205 pounds, you know, just beefy.vI was pretty strong, but not very fast, well, not slow, but not as fast as I had been in the past.

Then the football season ended, I break my wrist. Me and my coach, Jamie Cook started training in January, getting a feel for each other. I ran a 4×4 and  actually ended up running like 50.2, which is like the slowest 4×4 split I’ve run since like eighth grade.

So I met with my sports nutritionists at Oregon. I was ‘Hey I’m 200 pounds right now. I want to be like 180, 185 in like six months from now.’

I end up losing like 15 pounds in like three months. And that’s kinda where the progression happened, right? Like I ran 14.0, kept getting faster. 13.7, 13.5, 13.4 13.3 13.27, 13.16 And, you know, it was really, every meet, I just got better and better. And obviously I was getting better technically as a hurdler, but I was [also] getting in better shape.

So that’s, that’s pretty much the progression. I would say like maybe my senior year [of high school], if I didn’t get hurt, I probably would have been knocking on 13.0 12.90, the magic number for high school.

So that’s kind of the progression that happened leading up to that where I came out of nowhere.

That 2014 football season comes and goes great. I’m doing really well. It’s the year Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman. I think at the time I was leading the team in receptions and touchdowns (Editor’s note. For WRs, he was 1st in TDs and 2nd in receptions). We ended up going to the Rose bowl, playing Florida State, beat them.

Unfortunately I tore my ACL, the first play of the game. Right. So then I didn’t play in the national championship. We lose that one, which is another fun fact. If we would have won that game, I would have been the only athlete in history to win an individual title and track team title, and team title in another sport in one year which would’ve been pretty cool. So 2015, I lost that season, so I didn’t run at all. Obviously there’s not really any progression cause I didn’t get to improve. 2016, I  come back, play a little bit football, still a little bit banged up from my, from my initial knee injury…   then once track, season got going, I got to train and, you know, I ended up running 13.03 (winning USAs) to qualify for the Olympics. So, and then I guess the next story is I do the Olympics, didn’t compete as well as I wanted to. That’s okay. You know, it happens, go back to play college football, tear my other ACL in Nebraska, three weeks later after the Olympic final.

World in Eugene in 2022

What’s the goal for next year? I’ve heard you reference 12.80 (the world record). Also the World Champs are at Hayward Field.

Obviously, I want to progress and keep continuing to progress. I know I’m talented enough to run 12.80 or 12.70. No doubt in my mind. Obviously, I just got to put it together. I think if I kept running, ya few more meets after the 12.99, I probably could have run faster.

Overall I think my goal is to get my pre-season base training in and stay healthy. I want to run indoors this year. That’s something that’s really important to me. I’m thinking about going to seven steps at the start. I haven’t really decided yet just because at the end of the season, my eight steps really got locked in.

There’s always that old saying if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of benefits between the two. Eight steps and  seven steps. So we’ll play with it indoors. And then, like you said, obviously the goal is to win World championships 2022 back at Hayward Field. That would be amazing. You know, that’s pretty much like a Cinderella story. I would say that they would have to make a movie if I do that. 

Football

Do you think your experience in football helps you as a hurdler?

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I was joking about that with my buddy yesterday. We were, we were hitting golf balls at the driving range. And he was joking that there was a lot of people at the range, so he was nervous and he was like, ‘Good luck. Don’t get nervous.’ I was like, bro, the level of stuff that I’ve done to get nervous at is not compared to 20 people at a driving range, watching me shank a ball.

Just playing in front of the amount of people I’ve played in football and then competing in front of 80,000, 100,000 people in track and field as well. You know, that’s about as big as you can get pressure wise. I think you just get better at you get used to it, you know, like it just becomes more normal.

What did you think of DK Metcalf running 10.36 this year?

Super impressed.  I know as a football player, I just know how fast that is. Ten three is no scrub number at all. That’ll do well at pretty much any college meet. So it’s very commendable. He’s obviously one of the fastest guys in the NFL. No doubt about that.

And also I ran against Tyreek Hill when I was in high school. We both ran 200. He actually ran like 20.2 at the time. Maybe he was a senior or a freshman in college.  [Editor’s note 20.14 in high school].He’s always been fast.

He has legit track speed. But that’s a little bit different when you’re just focusing on track other than just focusing on football… but the talent’s there for sure.

It would be cool to see it. Even I would throw my hat in there to race some of those guys if they want to cause they’ve been there, the football guys running track and I’m the track guy that used to be the old football guy, you know? 

What could you run a 100 in?

I’ve run 10.26, my PB in 2018. I’m definitely faster now. I was trying to get into a 100 toward the end of the season.

I’m definitely into the 10.0 range at least. It would be nice to run 9.9 but that’s still pretty fast.

So next year I’m going to run a few hundreds and then hopefully I can 9.9 so I can be the second guy that runs under 13 and under 10, me and Omar [McLeod]. Yeah, that’d be great. 

What’s your dream football track matchup? Who should be in the race?

Tyreek Hill. Raheem Mostert, I think is his name, he’s the running back for, the 49ers.

I believe he actually was a legit guy. He ran at Purdue and he ran like 10.0 [editor’s note: he ran 10.15w] he’s a legit track dude. So he would be in there, to be honest he’d probably win based on his accolades. DK Metcalf would be fun to have in there. And then maybe a quarterback, it’d be always fun to have like Lamar Jackson of Kyler Murray one of the running quarterbacks in there just to show how fast those guys really are because I know those guys can, go.

Do you ever think of giving it a go in the NFL?

I’m very focused on track and I want to accomplish these goals, but I would love the opportunity to play. It’s been a dream of mine since I was five years old to play in the NFL. So, if the opportunity arises in itself and it seems doable and it seems like it makes sense, as an athlete, yeah, one hundred percent. I’m going to go for it. 

So we’ll see. I’m not going to close any doors yet. I’m still young, I’m only 26. I’ve still got some time to figure out what I want to do. And, and, and I talked to Renaldo Nehemiah (former 110m world record holder and Super Bowl champion) in depth about his football career and all that stuff…

When I do show up, I’ll be ready to go. I don’t want to waste anybody’s time. If I want to try to play, I’m not going to go out there and make myself look like a fool. I’ll be ready to play. If I do decide to play.

Listen to the full Devon Allen talk as a podcast here.

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