Kenny Selmon consistently quick between the hurdles

(Photo by Kirby Lee/Image of Sport)

Edwin Moses was the face of dominance in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

With his flawless 13-stride pattern between hurdles, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and former world-record holder rarely lost when it came to the 400-meter event. In fact, at one point during a nearly 10-year span, he won an amazing 122 consecutive races in his specialty.

Kim Batten considers one of her protégés, recent New Balance National Outdoor 400m IH champion Kenny Selmon of Pace Academy, Ga., among a very small group that have potential to match the excellence of the great U.S. Olympian and his consistency to never break stride in the demanding race.

“Edwin could do 13 strides all the way through,” she said. “I look at Kenny’s stride pattern and he’s one that will be able to do that, very similar to Edwin Moses. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

When you consider the background of Batten, those words hold strong meaning. Like Moses, she’s a former Olympian and world-record holder. Batten earned gold in the 400m IH at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and once held the AR and WR of 52.61 seconds.

Photo by Mary Ann Magnant

The 17-year-old Selmon’s performance at the NBNO meet, where he ran his all-time best of 50.48, exemplifies the outstanding high school career of the soft-spoken hurdler. It’s a career that includes three consecutive 300m IH state titles and two straight 110m HH state crowns as well as a bronze medal in the 400m IH at last year’s IAAF World Youth Championships in Ukraine.

Before embarking on his collegiate career at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he earned a full scholarship to the Division I program, Selmon is looking to clear two more hurdles, figuratively speaking.

In less than two weeks, the Pace standout will be in Eugene, Oregon for the USATF Junior National Track & Field Championships the weekend of July 5-6. At the US Trials for IAAF World Junior Championships, Selmon will be looking to make the U.S. team for the second straight year and hopefully finish business at the World Games in Eugene at the end of the month by turning his bronze into gold.

“I don’t want to say anything definite,” Batten said, “but if he goes out and does what he’s supposed to do he has a really good chance.”

Georgia’s most celebrated prep hurdler has been excelling in the arena of track & field ever since he was a youth, competing for the Gazelle Track Club. He started off as a middle-distance star, once nationally-ranked for the 800 meters. It was at the Atlanta-based club that he also discovered his love of hurdling.

“The (track club) used to make us do all the events,” Selmon said. “I tried it and liked it. I like 400 hurdles because it’s a rhythm race. You got to get a stride pattern.”

Photo by Donald Lamb

In the longest hurdle event on the track, save for the 3,000m steeplechase, the ability to excel in this technically-sound event by maintaining a consistent stride pattern between all 10 hurdles is of the utmost importance. It requires a strong mental approach and a bit of endurance, too.

That’s two traits that fall right in line with Selmon, according to his coach.

“I have been working with him since the ninth grade,” said Batten, who was hired by Selmon’s dad, Bill, to work with his son. “Right from the beginning, I could see he was a special young man. The one thing that separates him from his peers is he’s a strong 800 runner. This endurance has really helped him. The other thing is his stride pattern and his ability to hold the stride pattern.”

Disappointments have been rare when it comes to the hurdles, but Selmon does list last year’s New Balance meet as one that’s on his short list. He was ranked No. 1 going into the meet and placed fourth overall.

He considered the performance a learning experience.

“I was disappointed, but I learned so much from that race,” he said. “It was a blessing in disguise. Toward the end of race I tried to make up the stagger. I folded a little bit and got out of my rhythm. New Balance was the first time when I finally had competition.”

“I think it was definitely a stride-pattern issue,” Batten said.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound hurdler rebounded nicely from the New Balance meet by finishing second at the World Youth Trials with a then best of 50.90 and then placing third overall at the championship meet in Ukraine.

“The funny thing about that is it was supposed to be two rounds, but the first one got rolled over because there wasn’t enough people,” Selmon said. “I woke up the next day and found out I had lane eight. Who wants to have lane 8?”

“(Winning the) bronze medal was crazy,” he continued. “It was surreal.”

All signs appear positive for Selmon achieving something special in Oregon next month. Along with his state (300m IH, 110m HH) and NBN titles this spring, he also captured his second consecutive crown in the 400m IH at the highly-competitive Golden South Classic in Orlando, Fla., on May 18. Selmon, who also was first in the 110m HH with a PR of 13.90, broke the tape in a fast, mid-season time of 51.25, more than a second faster than his 52.30 winning effort in 2013.

That performance, alone, proved to Selmon that everything is going as planned.

“Seeing how I did 52 (seconds) last year and did 51 (seconds) this year, I am really excited,” he said. “I would like to go low 49s. Wherever 49 (seconds) shows up, I’ll be happy.”

Selmon nearly dipped under that milestone at New Balance, giving indication that the magical clocking could occur in the not-so-distance future, perhaps at the World Youth Championships.

“If I can run fast enough and execute how I should, it can’t get any better than that,” he said. “But I got to make the team first. That’s the first step. After that, we’ll see what happens.”

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