From Jamaica to Tokyo, from body to mind, the scientific art of an Olympic champion

“Hurdles are part of life, they are life. I often use them as a metaphor, because the philosophy and concepts behind this sport are extremely powerful. Every hurdle is a new race, every hurdle is a new barrier to attack and overcome…. And a long series of factors must be combined and perfected in order to succeed. At the end of the day, we hurdlers have to be like computers, every detail has to be coordinated to achieve maximum results.”

It is not easy to perceive the lightning-fast steps of a rare athlete, a rare hurdler, capable of lifting an Olympic gold medal on the podium in Tokyo 2020 and marking an entire sporting era. It is easy to listen to his linear and deep words: as linear and deep as his 110-meter run, as his glides over the 10 vertical traps that await him after each starter’s shot. Hurdles are a scientific art form, reveals this contemporary monument to biomechanics. Hurdles are experience and evolution, implies this 32-year-old Jamaican athletics star, rewinding the time machine and returning to the genesis of an all-encompassing relationship.

When I was a child, I didn’t know what athletics was. In my life there was only cricket and football. But in Jamaica everything is involuntarily related to running. I was always running, either to challenge other children or to go buy something for my mother. My days were marked by running. I felt in love with athletics at the beginning of high school, when I attended a 100-meter race of the best kids in my school. Hundreds of people were packed in to watch that moment; I did so from the third floor of the building: chaos, adrenaline and excitement overwhelmed the entire community. I immediately decided that I would join my school’s track team. For the first few months I tried many different disciplines, such as discus and javelin. I passed by the hurdles every night, then a coach asked me to try jumping them: from that instant my life began to revolve around these objects.”

First the victories at the school level, then the international ascent. Hansle nostalgically recounts his debut meeting, run in worn-out shoes and an outsized uniform, the nervousness and pride experienced by wearing his country’s colors for the first few times, the responsibilities that grew along with the results, and the ups and downs: physical and psychological rollercoasters that are inevitable in one of the most challenging disciplines in the entire track and field scene, rollercoasters that this World silver medalist managed to master through experience, study and self-exploration.

“Now I can say I am totally in control, I feel I have reached my sporting maturity. I have changed a lot along my career: when you are young you think about having fun and traveling, you don’t really work on your head, your fears, your goals, and in this sport you inevitably end up having dark periods, often related to injuries and insecurities. After all these years on the track, I have decided to approach hurdles like life: I know that I can control what is possible to control, and I know that the unknowns are not up to me, they should not affect me. Stress and concerns are meaningless. I just have to focus on the next goal, I have to put on mental blinders and think only about what I want to achieve, I have to think about the steps I will have to take in order to reach the destination. Some audiobooks shaped this new philosophy, allowed me to understand how emotional negativity affects the whole body, how the subconscious is extremely powerful and can affect performance. Books like ‘How to Own Your Own Mind’ changed me and I began to share these notions with those around me. Because sharing helps to increase knowledge and awareness.”

Today, Hansle’s consciousnesses are the certainties of an athlete at the apex of his sporting trajectory, they are the certainties of a man who has faced unparalleled joys and painful injuries, they are the wills of a hurdler destined to remain in history, along with his own times. We’re talking about legacy, as they would call it across the pond, we’re talking about a career that boasts a long series of significant podiums and that wants to wear gold again.

“I want to be considered among the greatest in this discipline. So far I have achieved very good results, but I want to do more, I want to climb back to the Olympic podium and I want to win my first World Championship gold medal. I feel that I can still improve my times. If I can reach these goals, I will be able to see my name in the all-time elite of hurdling. I am older now, but running the same times as I did a decade ago and improving on them will spark even stronger emotions. Outside of track I want to pursue my university studies, I already have a degree in Psychology, but I am increasingly being attracted to engineering disciplines…. I will start small courses and projects after I finish running. But first I still have a lot of times to set.”