Interview with NCAA Champion Hannah Cunliffe and her Coach, Curtis Taylor
Hannah Cunliffe has been a topic of conversation in the sprinting world for a number of years now.
The University of Oregon sophomore lit up youth levels in the 100m and 200m dashes not that long ago, and with all that potential, talent and work ethic to match, it seemed her rise was only a matter of time.
However, as with most great stories, Hannah had to go through a wilderness phase before she could find her greatest form. She certainly faced hurdles in her college career, beginning at the University of Oklahoma before transferring to Oregon.
Once at Oregon, and under the direction of miracle worker sprint coach Curtis Taylor, she seemed to transform into one the best short sprinters on the planet. But she hit another bump in the road last year when she suffered an injury that kept her from completing her competition at the NCAA National championships.
As disappointing as that might have been, Coach Taylor and Hannah worked harder to come back.
And Cunliffe proved all the doubters wrong, winning a national championship in the indoor 60m dash in an NCAA record time. Look for a follow-up story on MileSplit with Hannah's father, Mike, to get an inside look at the family behind the national champ. Below is an interview with Coach Taylor.
Interview with Hannah Cunliffe after the prelims of the 2017 NCAA Championship
Ryan Banta: Curtis, how have you developed your sprint program over the years?
Curtis Taylor: An answer to your questions, basically my sprint program has been the same over the years. I've refined a few things over time but the basic principals and structure is the same.
What do you believe works so well Oregon?
The difference in Oregon is basically an improvement in facilities and an amazing support group from strength training to rehab. In high school, club and even in junior college, in terms of athletes, you basically work with what you have. Here I get an opportunity to select most of the athletes through recruiting and of course at this level, the talent is greater. But basically at the core, everything is similar to what it has been over the last 15-20 years and the key for me has been staying true to what I know works from a scientific and functional aspect.
How do you balance working with all the talented individuals you have trained over the last number of seasons?
As far as balancing working with talented individuals, mostly the key has been educating them as to what they need to do to be better, why we do what we do and for them to understand that being the best individual athlete that THEY can be is the goal and not to compare themselves to their training partners. Second, it's important to respect and embrace their training partners as people who can push and make them better and look at them as aiding them in reaching their goals and not in hindering them from reaching them. Lastly, there's such a big culture of team here, and that rubs off on the kids in their dealings with each other. It's tough at times of course, but concepts are key.
With the sprint and hurdle group, how do you manage training outdoors all season when the weather is less than ideal?
As far as weather, in terms of training outdoors, we didn't do much of that this year. For the type of training we do, it's not really necessary. As long as I have 50-80m to work with, which we have underneath the grandstands and in the Moshofsky Center, I'm ok.
Any methods that you incorporate to keep athletes healthy?
Lots of work on acceleration, maximum velocity and power. Those things there and proper technique with sprinting usually keeps the athletes relatively healthy. That and a tremendous athletic training staff, incorporating copious amounts of rest and sound strength training progressions.
How did you manage Hannah's comeback from her setback last season?
Hannah's comeback was based on 3 things...rest, rest and more rest. Then proper rehab. Rushing an individual back from injury is the biggest culprit in their relapse. Shutting her down after her NCAA meet and getting to rehab right away were the biggest keys. Getting her to understand that time, rest, patience, and rehab were going to be the determining factors to her success was super important.
What do you think are Hannah's greatest gifts?
Basically getting her (and any athlete for that matter) to learn how to win at this and the next level are crucial to her progression. Hannah is a competitor and that's one of her greatest gifts but being competitive and believing you can actually win are two different things. The indoor thing will go a long way with her in shoring up her confidence in knowing she can win at this level. The other thing for her is to be able to express proper technique under pressure. That's been the biggest difference. She came into this program with good physical gifts but needing a sound technical model (which she now has). Now she just has to express it consistently every day as well as in meets. In her CR 60m record it was extremely sound, but in her 60m title race she just outmuscled the field. Her intent was to win and not so much to execute. Once she gets that under control she has the capability to run in the 7.05 range consistently.
What do you feel like still needs to be worked on?
And the last thing that ALL athletes have to work on is their lifestyle. Understanding that track and field at the highest levels is a lifestyle and not a 2 hour a day job is key. How you rest, when you rest, what and when you eat, who you hang out with, consistency in taking the appropriate supplements, getting the proper rehab down to little things like stretching or rolling out after practice or taking the warm up and cool down seriously all have an impact on performance down the road.