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High-Minded

Arnold, assistant at Cal State Northridge, tries to make quantum leap in the hurdles.

July 28, 1999|JOHN ORTEGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — When track and field experts discuss the abundance of talented American high hurdlers, they usually talk about two groups.

The old guard has Allen Johnson, 28, Mark Crear, 30, Eugene Swift, 34, and Tony Dees, 35.

The young lions are Reggie Torian, 24, Larry Wade, 24, and Terrence Trammell, 20.

Dominique Arnold, 25, an outgoing Northridge resident and volunteer assistant coach at Cal State Northridge, aspires to be a young lion.

Arnold, who will run today in a qualifying heat of the 110-meter high hurdles in the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada, won the 1996 NCAA title as a Washington State senior.

But a groin injury forced him to miss the 1997 season, and a stress fracture in his foot caused him to lose six weeks of training last year.

"He's in shape to run [under 13.20]," said Jeff McAuley, a Northridge assistant who coaches Arnold. "He's faster than he's ever been. He's fitter than he's ever been and he's had some great hurdle workouts the last few weeks."

A sub-13.20 clocking won't vault the 6-foot-1 1/2, 185-pound Arnold to the forefront of the world's elite--Colin Jackson of Great Britain holds the world record of 12.91--but it would improve his chances of getting into premier European meets.

"Once he runs [under 13.20], he's a legitimate [world-class] hurdler, whenever and wherever he runs," McAuley said.

Arnold ran a career best of 13.31 to place second behind Wade in the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in April and ranks 15th in the world this year, but he was disappointed with his fifth-place finish in the USA Track & Field championships in Eugene, Ore., on June 27.

In that race, Arnold was even with Johnson and Crear over the first hurdle, but he stepped into the second hurdle and finished in a wind-aided 13.59.

Crear, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist, ran 13.09 to edge Johnson, the Olympic champion, for first, followed by Dees and Duane Ross.

Ross's fourth-place time of 13.41 was slow for a high-caliber race, but it gave him the final spot on the U.S. team that will compete in the World Championships in Seville, Spain, from Aug. 21-29, because Johnson earned entry into the meet as two-time defending champion.

"I still think about it," Arnold said. "It haunts me. If only the top three had made the World Championship team, it wouldn't have killed me as much. But it was the top four, and fourth place was 13.41 and I ran 13.59, smashing hurdles and almost falling."

Arnold was in tears after the race, but his failure to make the U.S. team has motivated him for the Pan American Games.

"I have to think of the Pan Ams as my World Championships," he said. "I'm going to be pumped up. I'm not going to downplay it because it's not the World Championships and there's no money at stake. This is a big race for me."

Since the national championships, Arnold has focused on the first two hurdles in his workouts with McAuley. That was Arnold's weakness in the past, but he says his start has improved.

"I used to pop up right away so I could see the [first] hurdle," Arnold said. "That was my hurdles start. We had never developed my sprinter start before, but we have now. You've got to pretend like the first hurdle isn't there."

That's not easy when you're trying to clear a barrier 3 1/2 feet high, but it's something elite hurdlers like Jackson, Johnson and Crear do routinely.

"[Dominique] has no problem with hurdles 3-8," McAuley said. "He's as fast as anyone during that part of the race. He typically gets a little screwball on the last two [hurdles], but that's something we'll work on for next year."

Arnold is a longshot to make the 2000 Olympics, but he and McAuley feel a top-three finish in the Olympic trials at Cal State Sacramento next July is possible.

"I saw [John Chaplain, former Washington State coach] at [the USA championships] and he was telling me that I need to move up to the 400 hurdles so I can make the [Olympic] team," Arnold said. "He was saying that [a time of] 13-flat [in the high hurdles] might not make the team next year. It may not, so that means I'm going to have to run faster."

McAuley expects the third-place finisher in the trials to run around 13.10, and he figures Arnold can do that.

"We're trying to run [under 13.20] this year," McAuley said. "And [under 13.10] next year."

McAuley, who began coaching Arnold two years ago, acknowledges his comments could be interpreted as those of an overzealous coach, but he knows Arnold is a relatively inexperienced hurdler for someone his age.

Arnold didn't start running the high hurdles until he was a senior at Long Beach Wilson High in 1991, he didn't break 14 seconds until his final year at Washington State, and he has had few opportunities to race against hurdlers like Jackson, Johnson and Crear.

"He needs to have a breakthrough," McAuley said. "Larry Wade had a breakthrough this year and Reggie Torian had one last year. Now it's time for 'Nique."

Arnold, state junior college champion for Long Beach City in 1993, agreed.

"Larry came out," he said. "Reggie came out. Now it's time for me to come out. It just takes one race when you put it all together."

And become one of the young lions.

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