The former wide receiver in American football turned Olympic bronze medallist treats the hurdles like an oncoming defensive back, going straight through them to reach his intended destination, which was once the end zone and is now the finish line, after giving up football following his career at Howard University.
At 205 pounds and absolutely chiselled from a lifetime of lifting weights, he hardly resembles your typical 110-metre hurdler.
power and strength
In an event known more for finesse, Oliver brings power and strength, casting an intimidating presence on the starting line and, if they could, causing hurdles to quiver as he approaches.
“I wish they’d fall down in fear so I could go faster,” chuckled Oliver, who captured bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Oliver is following in a long line of distinguished American hurdlers, names that include Roger Kingdom, Renaldo Nehemiah, Greg Foster, Allen Johnson and the late Willie Davenport.
Time-wise, he’s ahead of that elite pack.
Oliver holds the American record with his 12.89-second burst last summer in Paris, a mark that’s the fourth-fastest ever in the 110 hurdles. And maybe in another generation, that sort of performance would lead to domination on the track.
Only this era has been difficult to rule with Cuba’s Dayron Robles and China’s Liu Xiang in their prime as well.
Those are two of the hurdlers Oliver will attempt to knock off at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, beginning this weekend. Robles has the all-time fastest mark of 12.87 seconds, with Liu just a fraction off at 12.88.
They also each have what Oliver covets most: an Olympic title. Robles captured gold in Beijing and Liu won four years earlier in Athens.
“They’re clearly the best hurdlers going right now,” the 29-year-old Oliver said. “They’re capable of running world-record times every time they step on the track.”
Not that long ago, football was Oliver’s object of desire and track more of an afterthought.
As a teenager at Denver East High School in Colorado, he merely went out with the track team to stay in shape. Back then, he competed in the triple and long jump events – scratching more than succeeding on most of his leaps.
One day, his coach pulled him aside and asked if he would step into a hurdles competition. Unsure of what to do, his coach told him to take eight steps out of the blocks, three steps in between hurdles and, other than that, just run fast.
He did. And a career in hurdles was launched.