- Jamaican beats Spain’s Cuban-born Orlando Ortega to win Olympic final
- Allen was taking break from college football to compete at Rio 2016
Rio Olympics: Next week Devon Allen will join the University of Oregon football team as they prepare for their season opener at Autzen Stadium. But on Tuesday night the 21-year-old wide receiver for the Ducks was out to make the most of his pre-approved absence.
Allen finished fifth in the men’s 110m hurdles in 13.31sec – a scant seven-hundredths of a second off the podium – behind world indoor champion Omar McLeod, who captured Jamaica’s first ever gold in the event in a time of 13.05. Spain’s Orlando Ortega took silver in 13.17 and Dimitri Bascou of France won bronze in 13.24.
The two-time US champion from Phoenix clipped seven of the 10 hurdles, including the final two as he was closing well, to finish nearly three-tenths off the 13.03 that he ran at the Olympic trials last month. That time, the second-fastest of the year, would have been good enough for gold on Tuesday night at the Engenhão. Instead, Allen will head home only with the tattoo of the Olympic rings that he’s promised himself.
“I was being aggressive, but when you’re not clean it amplifies your mistakes,” said Allen, speaking in the mixed zone afterwards with hair immaculately coiffed and twin diamond studs glimmering in the camera lights. “When you hit hurdles, you can’t be as aggressive. You get thrown off balance. As I get better and more technical, that will kind of disappear from my race.”
Allen had finished third with a time of 13.36 in the second of three semi-finals. That wasn’t enough to automatically qualify, but he and training partner Johnathan Cabral, a former Oregon hurdler, filled out the field of eight with the two best remaining times. They wound up running in lanes two and three respectively, no different than how they spent untold hours of preparation over the past six months. Cabral finished sixth, 0.09 seconds behind Allen.
He flies back to Oregon on Monday and will re-join the Ducks nine days before the season kicks off against UC Davis. He will look to add five pounds in the weight room before the third or fourth game of the season, but otherwise believes he’s ready for the gridiron. “I’ll probably be in the best shape of anyone on the field right now,” he said. “Maybe resting would make for a better athlete in the long run. Maybe I’ll miss the first couple games, but eventually I’ll get back in there.”
But it’s at season’s end when he will arrive at another crossroads: a career in professional track or stay the NFL course? As long as I’m young and healthy, I’m going to do both,” he said. “I’ve been doing both for the last eight years of my life and it’s worked out very well.”
Allen was recruited to Oregon as a runner though it didn’t take long before his speed caught the attention of the Ducks’ vaunted football program. As a freshman in 2014, he placed first in the 110m hurdles at the NCAA championships and US nationals, becoming the first to accomplish that double since 1979. Then he caught 41 passes for 684 yards with a team-high seven touchdowns – in addition to an average kickoff return of 26.1 yards on special teams – as a key cog in Oregon’s run to the national championship game.
But when he suffered a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus on the opening kickoff of the Rose Bowl, Allen was forced to endure a lengthy rehabilitation process that sidelined him for the entire 2015 track season. He returned for his sophomore year on the gridiron in a more limited role, though NFL scouts continue to project him as high as a third-round draft pick due to his potential on special teams.
Allen could turn professional in track and maintain his football eligibility so long as he only collects prize money. He can hire a track-specific agent, but must forgo all endorsement deals and appearance fees. Such are the byzantine rules of the NCAA, whose reactionary enforcement of the amateur myth Allen seemed to bristle at.
“I’m going to follow the rules while i’m still in college and getting my school paid for, but in the next year or so I’m going to decide what I want to do,” he said. “It’s just frustrating to me how the NCAA makes it seem like it’s a crime kind of. (Former Georgia running back) Todd Gurley got in trouble for signing autographs and they put it all over the news and it seems like he’s a criminal. That’s what’s frustrating: it’s not illegal, it’s just against the rules.”
While he finished off the podium, the fifth-place finish in Tuesday’s final left Allen bullish on his prospects in an event where top hurdlers typically don’t peak until their mid-20s. “Aries Merritt broke the world record when he was 27, Liu Xiang was a little older,” he said. “This is my fifth year of hurdling. It takes a lot of effort and technique and time. And I’ve got nothing but time.”
But for now, football season awaits – and a reunion with his Ducks team-mates who have been following his Olympic exploits with great interest. “I’ve got at least six more months of college sports left in me.”