Hayes & Perry: A Friendly Hurlde Rivalry

Feb. 6, 2007

Former Bruins Michelle Perry and Joanna Hayes, once teammates, now find themselves each other's toughest competitors as both look to rule the world in the high hurdles.

Hayes and Perry seeking Osaka success together
by Kirby Lee for the IAAF

Los Angeles, USA - Joanna Hayes and Michelle Perry may very well find themselves together on the starting line for the final of the women's 100m Hurdles final at the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, Japan, on 29 August 2007.

The foundations for a potential showdown between the training partners and former college teammates, though, are taking place daily in workouts in Los Angeles.

Hayes, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, and Perry, the 2005 World champion, are part of a Bobby Kersee's star-studded training group that includes Allyson Felix, Tianna Madison, Muna Lee and Eunice Barber.

'It's a Catch 22 for us,' Hayes said. 'There are advantages of training together but we both want to win and be World champion. I wouldn't change it. It is what it is.''

'Track meet every day'

Hayes, 30, and Perry, 27, first competed against one another as teenagers in high school in Southern California and were teammates for two seasons at UCLA. Both downplayed any rivalry between them.

'We've made it work,' Perry said. 'There's not as much tension than if it was some random person because we've known each other throughout the years. It's been so long that we're used to it.'

'Working out with elite athletes, it's hard on your body and almost like being in a track meet in practice every day.'

Difficult balance between friendship and competition

During early season conditioning and training, Hayes and Perry will workout together. Later in the season, Kersee often separates the two for individual hurdle workouts so he can more closely monitor their technique.

For Hayes, the most difficult part has been the transition between her relationship between Perry as a college team-mate and professional athlete.

'We're training partners now not teammates,' Hayes said. 'I've learned over the years that you have to put your feelings aside and be selfish. I want to win. That's me. If Michelle wins, `Good for Michelle.' I don't hate her but we're all out there for ourselves.'

World 200m champion Allyson Felix, who is beginning her third season training with Hayes and Perry, said there is a delicate balance between their relationships on an off the track.

'We're all friends and cool but in it's different in competition when everybody becomes serious, focused and gets intense,' Felix said, 'after the meet, we're laughing and joking again.'

Long road back for Hayes

The last two seasons for Hayes have not be joyous ones. She has been riddled with injuries since her Olympic record performance of 12.37 in Athens in 2004.

In December of 2004, Hayes was sidelined for several weeks after injuring her Achilles tendon in her right lead leg. In the 2005 USA Track & Field Indoor Championships in March, Hayes suffered a slight tear in her right hamstring, and in May of 2005, Hayes re-injured the hamstring in workouts before the Prefontaine Classic.

'The first time was heartbreaking,' Hayes said. 'When it happened again, I just sat there and said `Here we go again'.'

That wasn't the end of her injuries that year. Hayes strained hip flexor a week and a half before the Helsinki World Championships in August. Hayes advanced to the Helsinki final but misfortune struck again when she crawled across the finish with a hurdle around her hip after a spectacular crash and was later disqualified.

In the 2006 season, Hayes was hampered with a torn fascia in her right leg for much of the campaign where she had a yearly best of 12.76.on limited hurdle work.

'I had a lot of base but not a lot of speed,' Hayes said. 'Normally, I am the kind of person who hates to lose. I was ready to kill the season but I decided to be lackadaisical, relax and see what I've got.'

Looking ahead to 2008

Although Hayes said she isn't overlooking the 2007 season, winning an Olympic gold medal has helped ease the disappointment of the last two seasons and helped her remained focused on channelling her energies to being back at full strength for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Hayes has a tattoo of a dove and Olympic rings on her upper right thigh that she stenciled in black ink while attending UCLA, where she won the 1999 NCAA title in the 400m Hurdles. She added '2004' and shading on the rings after her Athens victory. Hayes said the dove symbolizes the releasing of the birds during the opening Olympic ceremonies.

There are deeper meanings than just the Olympics. Dove is her middle name as well as the name of her late grandmother. One of Hayes' most treasured possessions is a ceramic dove made by her grandmother. Hayes also has a Biblical passage from the second book of Samuel tattooed on her right thigh:

'He maketh my feet like hinds' feet and setteth me upon my high places.'

Hayes learned the passage in childhood and has used it for inspiration throughout her track career.

'I love the title of Olympic champion,' Hayes said. 'That's still bigger than a World record. I have an Olympic gold medal no matter what happens tomorrow or I never run again. People are trying to get what I already have and I am ready to get another.''

Season debut at Millrose

Hayes made her season-debut in the 100th Millrose Games in New York last weekend coming second to veteran Gail Devers in the 60m Hurdles, and is considering running in the USATF Indoor Championships on 24-25 Feb.

Perry will not compete indoors this season. She plans to run a series of low-key meets in Australia during a two-week stay in the second of half of February but does not plan to race again until late May or early June.

Heptathlon on hold for Perry

Perry was a 2004 U.S. Olympian in the Heptathlon but has put the event on hold with her emergence in the 100m Hurdles. Perry has dropped her 2004 career best of 12.74 to 12.43 and has headed the world yearly list in 2005 and 2006.

Perry has not competed in a Heptathlon since placing 14th in the Athens Olympics. She considered a return to the two-day, seven-event discipline this season but said the USATF Championships schedule is not conducive to a Hurdles and Heptathlon double.

Her training since mid-2005 has been geared exclusively for the Hurdles but Perry is confident that it would not take long to return to the form of her PB of 6126 to place third at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials.

'Once you know the basics, it's like riding a bike,' Perry said. 'All you need is conditioning.''

Big plans for Perry in 2007

The free-spirited Perry, known as 'Shelli' to friends, has written down the marks that she hoped to achieve on a tablet of paper before the season since high school.

Her goals for 2007 include an undefeated season, a World title as well as the American record of 12.33 set by another Kersee prodigy, Gail Devers, in 2000, and the World record of 12.21 set by Bulgaria's Yordanka Donkova in 1988.

Perry believes both the American and World standards are within reach with a technically sound race and 'minor adjustments.'

'I am World champion but I have by no means accomplished everything,' Perry said. 'If track and field ended tomorrow, I want to have done something that people really remember you. Breaking a World record that had lasted all those years would be the ultimate. It would stand a very, very long time.''

For the full story with pictures go to IAAF.org

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