With two healthy knees, a change of scenery and a fresh approach, Devon Allen is running fast and dreaming big.
And Friday night, he’s coming back to Hayward Field ready to put on a show.
The former two-sport star and 2016 Olympian for the Ducks is one of many track and field alums returning for the Oregon Twilight meet where he’s entered in the 100 meters and 110 hurdles. He’s also trying to put together a 4×100-relay team with some former teammates.
“Oregon does a really good job trying to get as many athletes who are still competing back for that meet,” Allen said. “I remember my freshman year in my first Oregon Twilight, I ran against Ashton Eaton in the hurdles. That was pretty sick. Being a freshman and getting to run against the (decathlon) world record-holder in the 110s was pretty awesome.”
Now it’s Allen who is among the main attractions. His three-year career at Oregon was highlighted by U.S. Outdoor titles in the 110 hurdles in 2014 and 2016 and a fifth-place finish at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. He turned professional in the fall of 2016 with two years of track eligibility remaining.
His collegiate career also was marred by two knee injuries suffered on the football field during his time as an Oregon wide receiver that required reconstructive surgery.
The last came in September of 2016, and though he was able to compete during the 2017 track season as a first-year pro, he was admittedly limited by lack of training.
Not so anymore.
“This is the longest time I’ve been healthy since I got to college,” he said. “It’s been 18 months since my last knee surgery, so not bad. … I started training in November, which is the earliest I’ve started training for track and field.”
The results have been impressive so far this season. He set a personal best in the 100 at 10.26 seconds during a race in Sydney, Australia, on March 17. Last week in his 110 hurdles season debut at the Drake Relays, Allen ran 13.42 to defeat world record-holder Aries Merritt and 2018 U.S. 60 hurdles indoor champion and world indoor silver medalist Jarret Eaton.
“Fitness-wise I feel a lot better, I’m a lot faster,” Allen said. “I just feel better. Obviously with a knee injury, there’s some lingering effects and soreness and stuff, but I can manage it and I’m able to train every day.”
Allen, 23, remained in Eugene for the start of his professional career to stay close to his coach, former Oregon assistant Jamie Cook. But when Cook took the head coaching job at Navy last summer, Allen moved back to his home town of Phoenix and turned to his former high school coach Tim O’Neil.
“They have the same philosophy really,” Allen said. “Jamie is really into being fit, being fast and then the hurdle stuff will come. Tim is pretty much the same way. Early in the season I did a lot of speed and endurance stuff to get me fit, and now I’m doing stuff to get me fast.”
Former Duck Johnathan Cabral, a 2016 Olympic finalist for Canada, has since joined him in Arizona. Cabral is also entered in the 110 hurdles Friday.
Allen and O’Neil have been working on getting Allen to use a seven-step approach to the first hurdle instead of eight in an effort to get out to a faster start.
He made his seven-step debut during the Drake Relays last week.
“I’m pretty excited,” Allen said. “I was excited about the performance. It’s not quite as good as my eight step yet, but if I keep working on it it will be fine.”
With no Olympics or World Outdoor Championships on the schedule this summer, Allen said he has set his sights on lowering his personal-best time of 13.03 seconds.
“Realistically, I feel good enough and healthy enough and fast enough to run a PB,” he said. “Once I dip into the 12 (seconds), then 12.80 is the goal, breaking the world record.”