Cathal Dennehy is one of the finest athletics writers in our sport. He is also the most traveled and most fearless. His authenticity, affection for the sport, and need to present the sport, in all honesty, are pretty straightforward. Cathal has written for us for over a decade, and his series on the Budapest 2023 world championships were beautiful, just look them up on #RunBlogRun. 

Success in the sprint hurdles has a lot to do with the body, but as Devynne Charlton has learned, it’s also about the mind

by Cathal Dennehy

It’s not that the 28-year-old Bahamian had any significant issues in this department before; she just knew it could be better. And so, with an Olympic year on the horizon, she sought help.

“I started working with a sports psychiatrist, having mental sessions, and he’s been helping me a lot just being able to focus, stay consistent, to think better thoughts,” she says. “Things that are conducive to being a world-class athlete. As I get more and more into my career, there’s only so much you can improve, so I’m looking for every little bit I can get.”

In recent years, Charlton has been close to the best in the world but often not close enough. She was sixth in the Olympic final in Tokyo, seventh in the world final in Oregon, and fourth in last year’s world final in Budapest. But she knew she could make global podiums. She’d done so before, winning silver at the 2022 World Indoors in Belgrade.

As she sat down at the end of last season, plotting out a course for the Paris Olympics, she knew she didn’t need any radical change – just to do some small things a little better.

They seem to have made all the difference. Heading into the Millrose Games in New York, she knew something special was on the cards. Charlton had been in flying form of late, running 7.75 and 7.76 in the weeks before the event. She began to size up Susanna Kallur’s world record of 7.68, which had stood for 16 years.

Devynne Charlton, WR holder, 60m hurdles, 7.67, photo by Kevin Morris, Millrose Games, February 11, 2024

“Based on numbers I was putting up in practice, I knew I was capable as long as I put the race together,” she says. “That’s the hard part.”

Charlton got a flying start in New York, and from there, she clicked into autopilot, snapping down over each barrier – a motion she’s rehearsed tens of thousands of times. “From there, it was just holding it,” she says. “I knew those ladies would be coming; they’re so talented and amazing, so once you get the start, you just try to hold them off.”

That she did, hitting the line well ahead in 7.67, taking one-hundredth of a second off Kallur’s world record. Charlton was surrounded by her rivals after the race, with as much euphoria on their faces as hers.

“I heard the announcer say world record. I saw everyone jumping up and down, and it didn’t hit me until I saw the clock. My name is Devynne Charlton, world record,” she says. “I can’t really describe that moment. When you set a goal and are working towards it all year, then to finally see it, (I was) on top of the world.”

Charlton became the first Bahamian to set a world record. In the weeks ahead, she will try to emulate her countrywoman, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, and become a world indoor champion. Her plan for Glasgow?

Devynne Charlton, Millrose Games, WR 7.67, photo by Kevin Morris, February 11, 2024.

“Do whatever I just did,” she says. “Keep that going, build off that. We could still taper a little, peak for World Champs. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Growing up in Nassau, her childhood hero was Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie, one of the ‘Golden Girls’ who claimed a 4x100m victory for the Bahamas at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Charlton’s path into athletics came through her father, David, a standout NCAA athlete for Howard University who represented the Bahamas at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.

She “pretty much grew up on the track,” but it wasn’t until age 14 that she started to see any success. Charlton got her first taste of the global stage when competing over 100m at the World U18 Championships in France in 2011, aged just 15, and she also won a Carifta Games title that year. After finishing high school in 2013, she took her talents to the NCAA, enrolling at Purdue University, where she came under the guidance of Bahamian Rolando ‘Lonnie’ Greene, who’s still her coach today, with Charlton following Greene to the University of Kentucky five years ago.

“Every year I get better as an athlete, he gets better as a coach, and I try to work on all my weaknesses,” she says.

The moment of realization that you have set a WR! Devynne Charlton hurdles 7.67 at Millrose, by Kevin Morris, February 11, 2024

Working with Greene also brought her into contact with one of her heroes, Ferguson-McKenzie, an assistant coach at Kentucky. Charlton typically trains on the track four days a week, then lifts in the gym two or three times a week. “Every day is high quality,” she says. It has to be, given she trains alongside US star Masai Russell, who set an NCAA record of 12.36 for 100m hurdles last year.

On the track, Charlton’s training has been “pretty much the same” this season, but she made some changes off the track to “little things – sleeping better, eating better, taking care of my mental health.”

The proud family of Devynne Charlton, new WR holder at 60m hurdles, photo by Jeff Benjamin, Millrose Games, February 11, 2024

Charlton takes great pride in where she comes from and the nation she represents with such pride on the global stage. “I always get so much support from the Bahamian community,” she says. “I know they’re tuned in whenever I compete, so being one of the ones on top of the world is an amazing feeling.”

Her run in Millrose achieved one of her long-held ambitions, and the next awaits Glasgow. “The goal was to break the world record; I did that, so I can scratch that off,” she says. “If I run faster (in Glasgow), then great, but if not, I need to be on top of the podium.”

How does a 7.67 indoors set her up for outdoors?

“Pretty well,” she says. “I always like to better my outdoor season (indoors), to build off that, so I’m looking forward to what that will translate to over 100m.”

Her goal for the summer?

“To do it again,” she says. “Why not try to break the world record outdoors? Why not be an Olympic champion?”

The new world record holder considers her 7.67 performance, Devynne Charlton, photo by Jeff Benjamin, February 11, 2024, Millrose Games.