Would It Be Beneficial to Change the Way We Seed 100/110 Hurdles?

The way we currently seed hurdles helped lead to contact between Hoehne's Tyler Molter and West Grand's Ivan Mendoza at state this year. Can we design things better so this is less likely to happen? Photo by Jeff McCoy.

The idea behind this article is simple: If the way we do things creates problems, it's worth exploring other ways to do what we do.

Here is the problem: The way heats of the 100 and 110 hurdles are seeded currently frequently leads to contact between hurdlers in adjacent lanes, as shown in the cover photo for this article. Since hurdling is not a straight-up running event, competitors don't necessarily stay within the 42-inch-wide confines of their lanes as they make their way down the straight. In fact, they usually don't stay within those 42-inch wide confines.

This is perhaps more of a problem with boys than with girls, as boys have--on the whole--longer limbs and therefore reach farther into adjacent lanes as they pass over the hurdles. Nevertheless, it is still a problem with both genders.

And, the contact between hurdlers is frequently far from trivial. If arms happen to collide as hurdlers pass over a hurdle, bruises can easily be left, and both forward movement and timing impeded.

A big part of the problem here is a seeding pattern that puts hurdlers of very nearly equal ability in adjacent lanes. The most common pattern of seeding for an eight-lane track puts the top seed in lane 4, the second seed in lane 5, the third seed in lane 6, the fourth in lane 3, the fifth in lane 2, the sixth in lane 7, the seventh in lane 1, and the eighth in lane 8. On a nine-lane track, the seeds go to lanes (in order): 5, 6, 7, 4, 3, 8, 2, 1, 9.

In either case, the top three seeds end up in adjacent lanes. And other adjacent seeds also occupy adjacent lanes. If the top three hurdlers are of at all close-to-equal ability (which is more often the case than not), that means a whole lot a whacking goes on during your typical race.

And, arguably, the #3 seeded hurdler has a more favorable lane assignment than the #2 seeded hurdler. The #2 seeded hurdler is flanked on both sides by his or her peers. The #3 seeded hurdler has a peer on his or her left, but should be able to run well ahead (with little risk of contact) of the hurdler on the right.

The cool thing here is that different seeding models could all but eliminate the unfortunate aspects of this situation.

Suppose, on an eight-lane track that we assigned the seeds, in order, to lanes 4, 6, 2, 8, 5, 3, 1, 7. Were this the case, we would have a minimum of a three-seed gap between any two adjacent lanes, and usually more than that.

It's also easy to configure seeding for a nine-lane track to produce a very similar result. Assign the seeds, in order, to lanes 5, 7, 3, 9, 1, 6, 4, 8, 9. In this case, there is a minimum of a four-seed gap between any two adjacent lanes.

The upside of this proposal is simply faster times. If hurdlers aren't whacking the guy (or gal) in the next lane, they are getting to the finish line faster. There would probably be a net result of slightly fewer collisions with the hurdles and falls. Both of those should be considered beneficial as well.

The downsides, I suppose, would be that hurdle races would not tend to progress in the familiar pyramid pattern we have grown accustomed to. I think I could get used to that.

I suppose that there might also be some fussing about midde-seed kind of hurdlers being assigned to outside lanes, but in hurdle events, that might actually prove beneficial--it means that obstacles come, potentially, from only one side and not two. Theoretically, it should be easier to focus on the task at hand in an outside lane than in an interior lane.

Okay, now it's your turn. Thoughts? I've started a thread on the forum for you, since MileSplit has made it difficult lately to connect forum threads with articles.

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