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Her Odds? Seven to One

Perry takes break from heptathlon to concentrate on the 100 hurdles

June 26, 2005|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

For Olympian Michelle Perry, the initial results of her addition-by-subtraction approach are encouraging.

With time and energy being precious, Perry, who finished 14th in the heptathlon at the 2004 Athens Games, is forgoing the event to concentrate on the 100-meter hurdles.

"I started running really well and we decided to go with it," said Perry, 26, who will run the hurdles today at the USA Track and Field Championships at the Home Depot Center. "The 100-meter hurdles is probably my favorite event because it's an event I've been doing since high school and it doesn't last two days."

Perry, a UCLA graduate, ran the world's fastest time, 12.45 seconds, in the 100 hurdles at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York on June 11. She edged Joanna Hayes, the Olympic gold medalist, by 0.05 of a second.

"I think Michelle ran a great race and, honestly, I'm proud of her," said Hayes, a fellow UCLA alum. "I've been training with Michelle for eight years now. I think competition is great."

Perry's previous personal best in the hurdles, 12.65, had come two weeks earlier at the Payton Jordan U.S. Open.

"I wasn't really surprised about the times," said Perry, who ran the fastest time (12.52) in the heats Saturday. "I knew I had it in me; it was more like when it was going to happen."

The new focus is welcome to Perry, who says she enjoys the hurdles because the wait between meets is shorter than the heptathlon's.

"I enjoy getting out there and doing it," she said. "With the heptathlon, there is about a two-month wait in between, and with the hurdles you're competing every couple of weeks."

Bob Kersee, who has coached Perry for almost a decade, said she is in the same mold as an athlete as former Olympic star Jackie Joyner-Kersee, his wife and pupil. Like Joyner-Kersee, Perry has put the heptathlon, which comprises seven events, on the back burner at times to take a less-is-more mentality and focus on singular events.

"Michelle athletically has developed to that same type of boat where she's a multi-event person," Kersee said. "She's probably one of the best heptathletes we've ever had. At the same time, she's capable of running the hurdles well.

"But you can't do everything. You have to decide individually and collectively what you want to do."

Kersee says time constraints make it difficult for athletes to simultaneously compete in the heptathlon and other events.

"I don't think we do the best job of scheduling athletes for both," he said.

While Perry has aspirations of winning Olympic gold just as Joyner-Kersee did, she said comparisons are premature.

"She had already won in the Olympics," Perry said of Joyner-Kersee. "I don't think I competed at the level that I was expected to last year."

Besides Hayes, Perry also trains with fellow Olympians Allyson Felix and Sheena Johnson.

"I think it's a huge benefit to practice with them," said Perry, who works out for three hours five to six days a week. "Iron sharpens iron and if you're around the best, you're going to be one of the best."

Perry, who earned nine league titles while attending Palmdale Quartz Hill High, was a late bloomer in the heptathlon because she did not compete in the high jump, javelin or shotput until she arrived at UCLA.

"Her development was probably three to four years behind," Kersee said. "I didn't get her into that many heptathlons because I was teaching her the skills."

In her second heptathlon, at the 2001 NCAA outdoor championships, Perry, a three-time Pac-10 champion in the 100 hurdles, placed second.

She finished with a personal-best 6,126 points at last year's U.S. Olympic trials, a third-place finish that granted her an Olympic spot. At Athens, she ran the heptathlon's fastest 100 hurdles (12.74) and 200 (22.91) and finished with 6,124 points.

Sweden's Carolina Kluft won the gold medal with 6,952 points.

"I had a ball in Athens," Perry said. "My parents were there and we got to see all of Greece."

After this season, Perry says she will return to focus on the heptathlon. And even though she temporarily put it on the shelf, the event is still on her mind.

"I want to be ranked at the top of the world in the heptathlon and the hurdles," she said. "I think my numbers are decent and if I continue to work hard, they will only improve."

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