Hello all, and welcome back to Husky History, a column focusing on one accomplished UConn athlete per week. Each article details the athlete’s accolades at Connecticut, as well as their ability to take their games to the professional level. This week’s Husky History focuses on indoor and outdoor track legend Dudley Dorival.
Dorival was born in 1975 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to parents of Haitian descent. His track career didn’t start until the summer before attending Ewing High School. Dorival’s future shop teacher and track coach at Ewing approached him before his first year, recruiting him because of his speed.
“[At the time] I was fast, but I wasn’t the fastest. I was horrible at hurdles,” Dorival recalled.
While he may have started out a novice, Dorival learned the ropes fast, mastering the 60-meter hurdles in indoor track and 110-meter hurdles in outdoor track. Before the end of his high school career, the young star qualified for national competition and caught the eye of a few schools, including UConn. Despite the interest from Storrs, Dorival set his sights on a warmer, busier campus.
“It’s too cold at UConn. I wanted to go down south,” said Dorival.
At the end of the day, the cold and isolation of Storrs didn’t sway Dorival. The hurdler’s ultimate decision came down to some advice he received from his mother growing up.
“Always go where you’re wanted,” said Dorival.
Once he accepted his official offer from UConn and got to campus, he started to take things even more seriously. However, in his first-ever track meet, he didn’t perform up to his normal level. His coach, UConn legend Greg Roy, told him that if he doesn’t set a personal best every time, he would have to run a decathlon as punishment.
“I guess that it was in the stars that I was going to be a hurdler because after that, I set a personal best every time I ran the track,” joked Dorival.
It was history from then on. Personal bests because podium finishes, and podium finishes became first-place finishes. Dorival took a big jump in his sophomore year, finishing All-American in the outdoor 110-meter hurdles. Dorival also marked 1995, putting his name in the program’s history books as an integral part of the 4-x-110-meter shuttle hurdles team, finishing in a UConn Track-best 55.65 seconds.
The All-American nods would keep coming in the following years, with the New Jersey native taking home honors for the 110-meter hurdles in 1996 and 1997, as well as the indoor 55-meter hurdles in 1996. Over the course of his UConn career, Dorival was named an individual Big East champion eight times across three different events, including an expansion off of the hurdles for the indoor 200-meters.
With Dorival leading the pack, the Huskies as a program found success as well, taking home the Big East Indoor Championship in 1997. Dorival earned the Big East Championship Outstanding Performer award for his efforts in the team win.
As of 2015 (the last data available), Dorival still holds three individual records at UConn: the 55-meter hurdles, 60-meter hurdles and 110-meter hurdles, clearing them in 7.16, 7.72 and 13.48 seconds, respectively.
Despite graduating in 1997, Dorival’s track journey would be far from over. He adopted Haitian nationality in 1999, and soon after represented Team Haiti in international competitions. The most significant accomplishment of his athletic career would come in 2001, when the All-American won a bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 2001 World Championships. Dorival set a new personal best of 13.25 seconds, less than half a second off of the current world record.
A three-time Olympian, the hurdler was a finalist at Sydney 2000, a semifinalist at Athens 2004 and a quarterfinalist at Beijing 2008 for the 110-meter hurdles. After three Olympics and several successful years on the track, Dorival knew his time competing was coming to a close.
“I was in Beijing, calling my sisters and talking to my family telling them, ‘This is probably going to be my last Olympics,’” he said.
Dorival’s love of the sport kept him involved after retiring from competition. The World Championships medalist found a new home at Rider University in 2008 as an assistant track coach under head coach Bob Hamer.
“I’ve had great mentors and teachers in my career, and this position offers me an opportunity to give something back. I’m looking forward to it,” said Dorival. “I am really excited and anxious to get started. The chance to share the things I’ve learned has been a goal of mine. I want to thank Coach Hamer and Rider University for this opportunity to contribute to the Rider tradition.”
While specializing in hurdles, Coach Dorival immediately made an impact on the program, helping them to their first-ever MAAC Championship in the 2011 outdoor track season thanks to five second-place finishes.
“[Dorival] definitely has an extreme knowledge of the hurdles,” Hamer said. “One of the things he does is a really good job of relating to the kids. He doesn’t walk around like, ‘Hey, I got a bronze medal in the World Championships, I’m an Olympian. This is how it’s done.’ He really comes with substance.”
While Dorival is pursuing other ventures now, Hamer is grateful for the impact the former Olympian has had on his program.
“[He drew] some attention to us and gave our program some credibility,” Hamer said.