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Johnson picks Robles over Liu for high hurdles

17 April 2008
www.guardian.co.uk

By Gene Cherry

Although China's Liu Xiang is the 110 metres hurdles world record holder and the Olympic and world champion, veteran U.S. high hurdler Allen Johnson does not consider him the Olympic favourite

Instead, the former Olympic and world champion believes Cuban Dayron Robles will win the race.

"In my eyes he is the favourite to win the gold medal," Johnson told a teleconference to promote next week's Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa. "If both of them run their best races, I think Robles will win."

Johnson said the pressure on Liu to win in Beijing would not be as much a factor as Robles's speed.

"Put it in perspective," Johnson said, "Robles ran 7.33 (for the 60 metres hurdles) indoors, that's blazing fast. Liu Xiang has a personal best of 7.42. That's a huge difference."

Liu set his world mark of 12.88 seconds in 2006. He and Robles both ran 12.92 last year, a personal best for the Cuban.

Robles also dominated the indoor regular season this year, running seven of the eight fastest times in Liu's absence. He clocked 7.33 seconds, narrowly outside Briton Colin Jackson's world record of 7.30 seconds.

"He was on fire," Johnson said.

The fire, though, was temporarily doused in the preliminaries of the world indoor championships' 60 metres hurdles.

The 21-year-old Robles incorrectly thought there was a false start and stopped running while Liu blazed to victory. Liu went on to add the world indoor title to his collection of gold medals.

According to the Finnish Web site Tilastopaja Oy (www.tilastopaja.org), the pair have met in 10 indoor and outdoor finals during their careers with Liu holding a 6-4 edge.

Robles was fourth in Liu's 2007 Osaka world championship win but the Cuban turned the tables in their last outdoor race, in Liu's hometown of Shanghai last September.

Johnson said the intensity would be much greater in August in Beijing, "probably a hundred thousand million trillion more" than when he won the 1996 gold medal in Atlanta at the age of 25.

He said if he qualified for Beijing it would be his final Games. "This is it," the 37-year-old said. "If I don't make it, I will never go to the Olympics again... I'm not going to London (in 2012)."



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