Hawkeye hurdler Holmes qualifies for nationals twice

BY BEN SCHUFF | JUNE 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Of the 47 athletes competing in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles in this week’s NCAA finals in Des Moines, only one qualified to run in both.

Iowa’s Ethan Holmes.

“I would say he has gone beyond our expectations,” Iowa men’s track and field head coach Larry Wieczorek said.

Qualifying for both hurdles is quite the accomplishment for arguably the team’s most improved runner from a year ago.

The Hawkeye sophomore snagged the No. 12 spot at the West Regional in both events by posting times of 13.80 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles and 50.70 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles.

Iowa assistant coach Joey Woody said it is “very rare” to have an athlete run at Holmes’ level in the two events, which are quite different races.

Strides are much longer in the 400 hurdles — hurdlers take anywhere from 13 to 16 steps between jumps, compared with three steps in the 110 hurdles. That event is more about speed than sustainability, because runners’ strides are cut down.

“Ethan’s had to learn how to flip the switch between the speed and power in the high [110] hurdles, and the 400 [hurdles] that is more of a rhythm and endurance race,” Woody said.

What makes Holmes’ qualifying more impressive is that he is the first Hawkeye ever to reach the NCAA finals in both events in the same year.

Pat McGhee was a successful hurdler in the late-1980s for the Black and Gold. As the school record holder in both events, McGhee was a three-time all-American — twice in the 400 hurdles and once in the 110 hurdles.

But even McGhee never ran in the finals of both events in the same season.

“Ethan has just been a steady, hungry guy,” Wieczorek said. “He appears to me to be a guy just doing everything right. He’s living the right lifestyle, living the life of an athlete.

“He’s taking care of the little things, the nutrition, the rest. To me, he seems like a guy for whom this is really important to him. This is his focus.”

Holmes credits his practice schedule for some of his success. During the week, workouts for each event are separated so he is never practicing for both events on the same day.

That workout schedule started paying dividends at the Drake Relays in late April. Holmes ran then-personal-best times of 13.93 and 51.01 in the 110 and 400 hurdles, respectively.

“At Drake is when he really turned it on,” Woody said.

Holmes placed third in the 110 hurdles at the Drake Relays, which is impressive considering the two events ran within an hour of each other.

“I surprised myself a little bit at Drake,” Holmes said. “I remember slamming down a granola bar and drinking a little in between, and then it was like, ‘Here I go again.’ ”

Drake started a streak of great meets for Holmes. Around three weeks ago at the Big Ten meet in Iowa City, he earned 16 points for the eventual champion Hawkeyes by placing second in both hurdles.

Holmes knows that in order to achieve greater success in Des Moines in either event, he’ll have to run some of the best races of his life.

“To be a player, to be a qualifier, to do what he did in the Big Ten championships, I think it is a remarkable step forward for him,” Wieczorek said. “He’s gone from a guy with potential to a guy fulfilling that potential.”

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