World indoor champion hopes a more rhythmical approach to his craft will see him quickstep his way to success
When Andrew Pozzi turned up to training to find salsa music playing and was then told to hurdle along to the beat, he began to wonder what he might have let himself in for following his move to work with Santiago Antunez.
However, when you consider that “rhythm is everything” to the hurdles coaching guru, it all begins to make sense.
It was late last year that Pozzi, the world indoor champion, took the decision to relocate to Formia in Italy and come under the guidance of the Cuban who led Anier Garcia and Dayron Robles to Olympic 110m hurdles gold in 2000 and 2008.
The Briton has found a completely different approach to the art of hurdling there. Under Antunez, technique comes first before any thoughts move towards strength and speed.
It has brought consistency this season for Pozzi, if not spectacularly quick times, although he has had injury interruptions to contend with once again which have hardly helped his cause.
Yet his coach is not one to get immediately hung up on how quickly his pupil is making the journey from A to B, more the manner of how he is travelling.
Ingrain the technical side first, get the rhythm and timing right and the speed will follow.
“He (Sanitago) has remarked a lot that the Cuban system, which I guess he kind of developed, is very different to anything he’s seen in Europe,” says Pozzi. “He said, from his perspective, that in Europe there’s a real rush to make everything quantifiable – you have to run super fast on the track, you have to lift heavier and heavier weights in the gym – but he feels co-ordination, mobility and technique is very overlooked.
“He said in Cuba that, during their development – until much, much later than we do in Europe – all they focus on is co-ordination and technique stuff. That means that, when they start increasing their physicality in the gym and on the track the technique is good and everything is very efficient.”
And this is where the dance lessons come in.
“In the winter we were doing a lot of rhythm-based exercises,” continues Pozzi. “We had salsa music on and all this stuff.
“You have various hurdles out, there’s music playing and for a set period of time you’re going back and forth over these hurdles. It’s for hip mobility, for rhythm and it was very strange. I wondered what I’d let myself in for in the first couple of weeks.
“To him, rhythm is everything and that’s something I really need work on because the consistency of my times have got better but, if you take the Brussels Diamond League (he was sixth in 13.50) as an example, I was moving quite strongly for the first half or three quarters of the race but there was a lack of rhythm there and when that’s the case it becomes much harder to maintain your speed and your velocity.”
Getting his timing and footwork right is key, then, albeit that any call from Strictly Come Dancing will have to wait for the moment. First up is the business of the IAAF World Championships in Doha.
Given the substantial life and training changes he’s made, does it mean there has been a shift in Pozzi’s expectations? The man himself admits he thought there would be. Antunez felt differently.
“When I approached Santiago about working with him he made it very clear that he was used to top performances and used to winning medals at championships and he said that, based on what he knew of myself as an athlete and what he could see from our early work together that that was entirely the aim,” adds Pozzi.
“He said that, from his point of view, he wouldn’t have me going to Doha unless it was with the outlook of winning a medal.
“He said if it looked impossible then we’d stop and prepare for Tokyo next year but he said that’s not where we’re at.”
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