Cordell Who? Meet the DII Star Who Just Ran 12.97 in the 110 Hurdles

Last weekend was a busy one in the track & field world. The 2023 Diamond League season began in Doha on Friday, where Sha’Carri Richardson won the women’s 100 meters in a world-leading 10.76 seconds. And a number of top American pros were in action on Saturday between the Atlanta City Games and the Track Fest at Mt. SAC. Yet the greatest track & field performance of the weekend came at a NCAA Division II meet in Missouri.

At the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) Championships in Jefferson City, Cordell Tinch of Pittsburg (Kan.) State had quite the weekend. On Saturday, the 22-year-old won the long jump with a wind-aided leap of 8.24 meters (+3.2), the #2 all-conditions jump in DII history. He also ran 13.07 (+2.8) in the prelims of the 110m hurdles. On Sunday, Tinch was even better. He won the final of the hurdles in 12.97 (+3.0), which is the second-fastest all-conditions time by any collegiate athlete, behind only hurdles legend Renaldo Nehemiah’s 12.91 (+3.5) for Maryland in 1979. And to finish the day off, Tinch won the high jump by clearing 2.18m (7-1.75).

While a tailwind can help in the hurdles (there’s a reason the fastest-ever DI and DII collegiate times were both wind-aided), it also presents challenges.

 “I’ve seen quite a lot of people that have been saying, oh, well it’s not that impressive because it’s a 3.0 wind,” Tinch says, speaking with LetsRun in a phone interview Monday. “And I’m like, with wind in hurdles, it’s not like the 100 or 200. It’s a lot tougher to hurdle with wind at your back because hurdling is all about rhythm and being sharp through your 10 hurdles…It’s all about rhythm. For certain hurdlers, it helps them, but for me I don’t think it helps me too much. It kind of forces me to slow down more.”

Managing his speed has been one of the biggest things Tinch has been working on in practice this spring. At his outdoor opener at the Texas Relays on April 1, Tinch raced out to a big early lead but lost control and clobbered hurdle 8. He wound up running 14.38 but believes if he had run a clean final three hurdles, he may have been able to break 13.00.

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“Especially with how efficient he is over the hurdle and in between the hurdles, he gets moving very fast early in the race,” says Pittsburg State head coach Kyle Rutledge. “So when he hits hurdle seven, eight, and nine, he’s actually starting to have to pull back his shoulders because he’s not used to that speed and he’s coming up on the hurdle so quickly that he’s going to actually start to chop his steps down.”

Grant Holloway 2.0?

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Tinch’s skill set is reminiscent of two-time 110m hurdles world champion Grant Holloway, who was a six-time NCAA hurdles champ at the University of Florida, set the collegiate record of 12.98 in 2019, and scored for the Gators at NCAAs in the long jump (he was 2nd at NCAA Indoors in 2018 and jumped a best of 8.17m). Holloway was also an accomplished high jumper, clearing 2.16m as a high school sophomore, but did not compete in that event in college.

Holloway was a phenom from the moment he stepped foot on Florida’s campus. Tinch’s journey has been more circuitous. Tinch was a multi-event star at Bay Port High School in Green Bay, Wis., but was suspended midway through his senior season in 2018 for his second “athletic code violation” of the year (Tinch declined to go into specifics when asked about it, saying he has “moved past” the situation).

Tinch earned a scholarship to play football and run track at the University of Minnesota, but the Gophers’ track & field program was undergoing restructuring and Paul Thornton, the hurdle coach that had recruited Tinch, wound up taking a job at the University of Kansas that fall. Tinch transferred to Kansas after his first semester and found immediate success under Thornton, winning the Big 12 110 hurdles title in 2019.

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But by the time the COVID pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Tinch had decided Kansas was no longer the place for him.

“Pandemic-related, mental health-related, and just not feeling I was in a situation for me,” Tinch says. “…I basically had to step back and get it together for myself.”

It would be three years until Tinch competed in a track meet again.

Taking a break from the sport and some advice from mom

Tinch enrolled at Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College in the fall of 2020 and practiced with the team, but only stayed one semester before returning home to Green Bay. Tinch was no longer sure if school, and track, were for him. He moved out of his parents’ place, got a job selling cell phones for US Cellular, and was “content on being a functioning member of society, tax-paying man” until Pittsburg State reached out last summer.

Tinch was hesitant to return to track. Since leaving Coffeyville, he had done little to stay physically active other than the occasional game of basketball. He was worried how his body would respond after such a long layoff.

“I was not doing track workouts, no speed and strength conditioning, nothing,” Tinch says.

Two things convinced Tinch to give track one more shot. First was a series of conversations with his mother, Elizabeth Simmons, who helped him realize the opportunity he had in front of him. The other was a call from an old friend.

Treyvon Ferguson has been roommates with Tinch at both Kansas and Coffeyville. As Tinch weighed his options, Ferguson called him up with a question: Hey, when do you get down here?

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Though Tinch was only at Coffeyville for a semester, he had formed bonds with his teammates, a number of whom had mentioned one day transferring to Pittsburg State. Tinch wasn’t sure how serious that discussion had been. Then he found out Ferguson, A.J. Evans, and Will Ellis had all gone through with it.

“Once I realized that everybody was already here, I was like, well, I’m not going to be the one that doesn’t show up,” Tinch says.

Once Tinch became academically eligible, he enrolled at Pittsburg State in January. 

Because Tinch was essentially starting over after a break of more than two years, Rutledge and the Pittsburg State coaches tried not to rush into things once he began practicing with the team.

“You sit out for a couple years, your body’s still trying to make the adjustment so we just took it slow,” Rutledge says.

Tinch says the toughest part of his return was the unknown. In high school and at Kansas, he had always known what kind of shape he was in, which brought a level of confidence that flowed into the rest of his life. Not anymore.

Courtesy Pittsburg State Athletics

“There was a way that I subconsciously carried myself just in life in general with being athletic and being able to run certain times or jump certain heights or jump certain distances, that I knew about myself,” Tinch says. “I was essentially in a position where I genuinely had no clue what I could do anymore where that was uncharted territory for myself.”

By the time of Tinch’s first meet back, the Washburn Open in Topeka on February 3, he had put a lot of pressure on himself to succeed. He wound up with two wins and three personal bests — 7.73 and then 7.66 in the 60 hurdles prelims and finals, and 7.94m in the long jump. Just as importantly, the anxiety that had come without having a result next to his name for so long had been lifted.

We can really get to work now, Tinch thought afterwards.

Tinch is thriving at Pittsburg State. A month after his debut, he won NCAA DII titles in the 60 hurdles and high jump (he was 10th in the long jump). This year, he has wind-legal pbs of 13.32 in the 110 hurdles (the DII record), 7.94 in the long jump, and 2.22 in the high jump. Tinch’s goal is to win all three events at his next meet, the NCAA DII champs in Pueblo, Colo., May 25-27.

“Hopefully put some marks out there that can really back up the performances I had this weekend, not to just show it was a one-weekend thing but to show that I’m here in this track world to put my name somewhere,” Tinch says.

But Tinch also has one eye on an even bigger meet: the USATF Outdoor Championships in July. Wind-aided or not, 12.97 is an incredible time. Since the start of 2019, only two men in the world have run faster in any conditions.

Fastest all-conditions 110m hurdles performers since 2019

Time Wind Athlete Meet Date
12.81 +1.8 Grant Holloway US Olympic Trials 6/26/21
12.84 +1.6 Devon Allen USATF NYC Grand Prix 6/12/22
12.97 +3.0 Cordell Tinch MIAA Champs 5/7/23
12.99 0.0 Rasheed Broadbell Athletissima Lausanne 8/26
13.00 +0.8 Daniel Roberts NCAA Champs 6/7/19
13.00 0.0 Trey Cunningham NCAA Champs 6/10/22
13.00 +0.3 Freddie Crittenden NACAC Champs 8/20/22

The US hurdles team is the toughest to make in the world, but because Grant Holloway has a bye as defending champion, the US gets four spots at this summer’s World Championships in Budapest. Tinch has never even competed at a US championships, let alone made a team, but he has the talent to be a contender in 2023.

Rutledge didn’t want to speculate on what Tinch could run with a legal wind right now, but says he is looking forward to find out.

“When you get someone that is that talented but also has a great attitude and always has positive energy, he’s just really fun to coach,” Rutledge says. “He’s always receptive to change, always trying to see what he can do better. It’s been a whole lot of fun. It’s a pleasure as a coach. He’s a phenomenal human being and I just want the best for him.”

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