Culson still looking for elusive global gold
Guardian Sports Editor
Published: Apr 16, 2014
The IAAF ‘Day in the Life’ Team will continue to bring feature stories of Caribbean athletes and athletics in this region of the world. Today’s focus is on Puerto Rican hurdler Javier Culson.
PONCE, Puerto Rico – Since his coming out party just after the Beijing Olympics, Javier Culson has been blossoming as one of the best long hurdlers in the world. The man known to his many fans worldwide as ‘Culsonic’ is one of the most talented athletes in his discipline on the European Tour, and competitively, he carries the hopes of an entire nation on his shoulders.
Culson has won an Olympic bronze and world championships silver medals, but has never broken through for the gold at either meet. He won the Olympic bronze two years ago in London, England, and captured silver medals at both the 2009 Berlin World Championships and the 2011 Daegu World Championships. Also, last year, he secured the Samsung Diamond League title for the first time, and will be aiming to defend that title this year.
The main goal for the Puerto Rican remains to win an individual gold medal at the world championships or the Olympics though, becoming the absolute first from his country to accomplish that feat. He is humble off the track, and fierce on it.
This past weekend, Culson took some time out to take in some of the action of the 85th Inter-University Athletic League Championships in his hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico. He competed in the meet during his collegiate days, and still holds the 400 meters (m) hurdles record up to this day (48.90 seconds).
“This particular meet jump-started my career,” said Culson through an interpretor. “It helped me improve my technique over the hurdles, and also helped me to get that experience which is vital for when you start competing professionally. When I started competing internationally, it took me a while to get going, but once I got used to the atmosphere, I started producing good times. I look at my competitors as friends off the track, but rivals on it. Once I remain focused on doing what I need to do, and running my race, I will continue to produce the desired times.”
With no big meets planned this year, Culson said that his primary goal would be to successfully defend his Diamond League title. He said that he would also like to top the world’s performance list, and be a part of the Americas team for the International Association of Athletic Federations’ (IAAF) Continental Cup, September 13-14, in Marrakech, Morocco.
“Training has been going well for me – similar to in 2012 when I did a few 800m races leading up to the Olympics. This year, I’m doing pretty much the same thing because it helped improve my endurance and strength. I want to remain consistent around the 47 second barrier, but I want to go lower – to the low 47’s. What I’m doing with the 800s should help with that. I’m looking forward to producing some better times.”
Culson had a strong Olympic campaign in 2012, but faltered in the Olympics itself, and was one of the favorites to capture the gold at last year’s Moscow World Championships, but that never materialized. He is constantly producing top times and performances, but has yet to win the big one, the world championships or the Olympics.
Felix Sanchez captured the Olympic title in London, and Jehue Gordon of Trinidad & Tobago, out-leaned American Michael Tinsley for the gold at last year’s worlds.
“I don’t look at any one person when I line up to compete. I believe that everyone has an equal chance of winning the gold medal. It’s just up to that person to bring it on that particular day,” said Culson. “I just try to go out there and focus on what I need to do to win the race.
“There is this sudden emergence of athletes in the 400m hurdles in this region, and I think that’s good for the sport. Hopefully, we will continue to push each other, and continue to have good performances internationally.”
Culson said that he is working hard to secure an individual gold medal at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China, and particularly the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil. On his left shoulder, he has a tattoo of the Olympic rings and the Puerto Rican flag. To win the gold in Rio is his primary focus over the next two years.
“With the hurdles, I’m constantly working on getting better,” said Culson. “Right now, I’m working on becoming comfortable running 12 steps between hurdles three and five, and being able to run 13 steps in the final stretch. During the 2012 Diamond League, I ran 12 steps between hurdles three and five, but I was not that comfortable. I’m working on that, and really trying to improve in that area.”
Culson said that he realizes because of his superstar status in Puerto Rico, a lot of youngsters from that nation look up to him.
“I understand that I am a role model to a lot of athletes, and young people in particular. I got my start at these university championships, and I encourage the young athletes to compete here because it not only builds you academically, but athletically was well. This is just the beginning of what’s to come for many of these athletes.”
Culson also does a lot of work with the Stephen Anthony Ayala Rivera Foundation in Puerto Rico, working with underprivileged kids, the majority of whom have been stricken with cancer.
“When I go out and race, I run with a lot of them on my mind and in my heart,” said Culson. “When I come back, they cannot be a part of the welcome celebrations, so I go to their homes and just bring them hope and inspiration – be a positive addition to their lives. These kids need as much encouragement as possible, and I try to provide that.”
Culson said that he follows all of the events on the tour, gaining knowledge and respect for all of the athletes.
“Track and field athletes work hard to get to where they are, and I admire all of them,” he said.
As for his career, Culson has experienced a great deal of success in the 400m hurdles, but said that he loves running the flat 400m, and would do so willingly if given the opportunity to do so. He has a personal best time of 45.99 seconds in the open quarter.
For now, his immediate goals are to successfully defend his 400m hurdles Diamond League title, and run on this year’s Americas team at the IAAF Continental Cup.