6 September, 2020

The 400m hurdles is a scintillating track event of running at speed and jumping over ten hurdles. It is in this event that legendary Edwin Moses recorded the 122-race winning streak. In hurdling, a series of barriers known as hurdles are set at precisely measured heights and distances which each athlete must pass by running over. Failure to pass over or intentionally knocking over hurdles will result in disqualification. Hurdle design improvements made in 1935 developed the L-shaped hurdle which tip down to clear the athlete’s path.

There are five hurdle heights on most standard hurdles -106.7 cm, 99.1 cm, 91.44 cm, 83.8 cm and 76.2 cm. In sprint hurdle events for men, regardless of the length of the race, the first hurdle is 13.72 m from the starting line and the distance between hurdles is 9.14m. In sprint hurdle races for women, the first hurdle is 13m from the starting line and the distance between hurdles is 8.5m. In long hurdle events, whether for men or women, the first hurdle is 45m from the starting line and the distance between hurdles is 35m.

Edwin Moses’s World Record Streak of 122 Successive Wins

Edwin Corley Moses, born August 31, 1955 is a US athlete who won gold medals in the 400m hurdles at Montreal 1976 and the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. He won 122 consecutive races that included 107 finals and set the world record in the event four times between 1977 and 1987. In addition to his running, Moses was also an innovative reformer in the areas of Olympic eligibility and drug testing.

Moses was born in Ohio and having accepted an academic scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, he majored in physics and industrial engineering while competing for the school. Initially, Moses competed in 110m hurdles and 400m. Later, he shifted to 400m hurdles. In his first international meet, Moses won the 400m hurdles gold setting a world record of 47.63sec.

With his height of 6’2”, Moses’ trademark technique was to take a consistent 13 steps between each of the hurdles, pulling away in the second half of the race as his rivals often took 15 strides. He qualified for the US team for the Montreal 1976 Summer Olympics and won his first Olympic gold with a world record.

After breaking his own world record the following year at the Drake Stadium with a time of 47.45sec, Moses lost on August 26, 1977 in Berlin; this was his fourth defeat in the 400m hurdles. Beginning the next week, Moses won and he did not lose another race for nine years, nine months and nine days.

Moses qualified for the Moscow 1980 Olympics but was unable to compete due to the boycott. He did however receive one of 461 Congressional Gold Medals created especially for the spurned athletes. In the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, Moses was selected to recite the Olympic Oath, but forgot the text during his presentation but won his second Olympic gold.

By the time, he was beaten on June 4, 1987, Moses had won 122 consecutive races, set the world record four times, won three World Cup titles, a World Championship gold as well, besides his two Olympic golds. After the loss, he went on to win 10 more races in a row, collecting his second world gold in Rome the same year. Moses finished third in the final 400m hurdles race of his career at the 1988 Summer Olympics.

In 1979, Moses took a leave of absence from his job to devote himself to running full-time. He was instrumental in reforming international and Olympic eligibility rules. At his urging, the IOC established an Athletes Trust Fund in 1981. It allowed athletes to benefit from government or privately supplied stipends, direct payments and commercial endorsement money without jeopardizing their Olympic eligibility. This fund is the basis of many Olympic athlete subsistence, stipend and corporate support programs, including the US Olympic Committee’s Direct Athlete Assistance Programs.

Moses was the 1980 Track & Field News Athlete of the Year. In 1981, he became the first recipient of USA Track & Field’s Jesse Owens Award. He received the James E. Sullivan Award in 1983 and was named as ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year in 1984. Moses also shared the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1984. His hometown of Dayton renamed Miami Boulevard West and Sunrise Avenue “Edwin C. Moses Boulevard” in 1984.

As a sports administrator, Moses participated in the development of a number of anti-drug policies and helped the track and field community develop one of sports most stringent random in-competition drug testing systems. In December 1988, he designed and created amateur sports’ first random out-of-competition drug testing program.

In 1994, Moses received an MBA from Pepperdine University and was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. In 1999, Moses ranked 47 on ESPN’s Sport Century 50 Greatest Athletes. In 2000, Moses was made chair of the Laureus World Sports Academy, which seeks “to promote and increase participation in sport at every level and also to promote the use of sport as a tool for social change around the world.”

In 2009, the University of Massachusetts Boston awarded him an honorary doctorate for his efforts to maintain the integrity of Olympic sports and for use of sports as a tool for positive social change. He is a humanitarian and advocate for peace.

Back to Back World Records in 2019 by Dalilah Muhammad

Dalilah Muhammad, born February 7, 1990 is a US athlete who won gold at the 2019 World Championships, setting the current world record of 52.16 sec. A few months earlier, she stunned the athletics world when she obliterated one of the longest-standing records in women’s track and field during the US trials, storming to victory in 52.20 sec. Her display sliced more than one tenth of a second off the previous record of 52.34 sec and has left many wondering if the 52-second barrier may fall.

At Rio 2016, she won the Olympic gold in the 400m hurdles. She is only the second female 400m hurdler in history, after Sally Gunnell, to have won the Olympic and World titles and broken the world record. She was also the winner of world championship silver medals in 2013 and 2017 and the US national champion in 2013, 2016, and 2017.

She competed in various track and field events at high school, including the hurdles, sprints and high jump. At the 2007 World Youth Championships, she took the 400m hurdles gold medal. While at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, she won the 2008 New York State and Nike Outdoor Nationals titles in the 400m hurdles. During that period, she also gained her first international experience.

In 2008, she enrolled at the University of Southern California on a sports scholarship, majoring in business. At the Pacific-10 Conference meet, she was runner-up in the 400m hurdles. The NCAA Outdoor Championship saw her set a 400m hurdles best of 56.49 sec. She won the national junior title that year and was the silver medallist at the 2009 Pan American Junior Athletics Championships. In her second year at USC, she was a runner-up at the Pacific-10 championships. The 2011 outdoor season saw her repeat her Pac-10-second place and a personal record of 56.04 sec.

In 2012, at the Pac-12 meet, she was placed third in the 400m hurdles. She was again an NCAA finalist in her specialty, coming in fifth and participated in the heats at the 2012 US Olympic Trials. She ended her career as a four-time NCAA All-American.

After graduating from USC, she chose to compete professionally in the 400m hurdles. She improved her personal best in the 2013 season with 55.97 and then 54.94 sec in California. In her IAAF Diamond League debut, she was placed fourth at the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix with a time of 54.74 sec. She won at the Memorial Primo Nebiolo in Italy in 54.66.

At the 2013 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, she improved her personal record to 53.83 to win her first national title in the 400m hurdles. She represented Nike since 2013. At the 2014 USA Outdoor, she qualified for the 400m hurdles. At the 2015 USA Outdoor, she was placed seventh with a time of 57.31. At the 2016 US Olympic Trials she won the 400m hurdles in 52.88. At the 2016 Summer Olympics, she won gold in 400m hurdles. She defended her title at the 2017 USA Outdoor, winning with a personal best time of 52.64.

Muhammad broke the 400-metre hurdles world record at the 2019 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships with a time of 52.20 sec, improving a 16-year-old record established in 2003. She won the gold medal at the 2019 World Championships, setting the new world record with a time of 52.16 sec. At the end of the season she was selected for the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Award by the USA Track and Field Federation and by Track and Field News at its World Women’s Athlete of the Year.

World Record of 1992 by Kevin Young

Kevin Young, born September 16, 1966 is a US athlete who won the 400m hurdles at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics with a world record and Olympic record of 46.78 sec which was the first time the 47 sec was broken. The world record remains unbeaten even after 28 long years. He became the world champion at the 1993 World Championships. He had an unusual hurdling technique of switching between 12 and 13 strides between the hurdles.

At Jordan High School, he was first successful as a 110m hurdles. As a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), he was fifth at the 1985 Pac-10 Championships in the 400m hurdles. He won the 1986 Pac-10 400m hurdles with a record of 49.02 sec. At the 1986 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships, he was a second-place finisher. While running between the fourth and fifth hurdles he took eleven (11) strides between the barriers, a feat only repeated by him in the first round of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

At the 1987 NCAA championships, he captured a pair in 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay. In 1988 at UCLA, he defended his third Pac-10 400m hurdles title. The 4x400m relay team became the first collegiate team to run under 3 minutes. Young finished his senior year as team captain and the most valuable male collegiate athlete in the US. He graduated from UCLA setting junior and senior class records in the 400m hurdles clocking 48.15 and 47.72 respectively.

Young made his international debut at the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow and later at the 1987 Pan American Games. At the 1988 Summer Olympics, Young finished fourth just behind Edwin Moses in his final race. At the 1991 World Championships, Young was again fourth. In 1992, Young won his first USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships title and was unbeaten prior to the Barcelona Olympics.

Running in lane 4, Young appeared to have the slowest reaction to the gun off the field. Using a left leg lead, 13 strides to the second hurdle, he had pulled to just slightly behind the leader. Between the next two hurdles, he ran 12 strides, alternating to the right leg lead over the fourth hurdle. Relative to the hurdles, he had clearly a full stride or more behind. Running 13 strides the rest of the way, he passed the rest of the competitors to his outside between the next two hurdles.

Young was still powerful and tried to maintain that power into the final hurdle, catching the face of the hurdle with his lead leg heel, riding the hurdle to the ground. He maintained his powerful stride to the finish. Realizing he had the clear victory, he raised his right arm in celebration 10m before the finish, slowing his last four strides. He won with a new world record of 46.78. The record still stands. Only Young has ever perfected the 12 stride pattern to success.

It is well noted that Young, throughout the 1992 season prior to Barcelona, placed small pieces of paper with the numbers 46.89 in each running spike. He had mentally convinced himself that running under 47 sec was possible. In 1993, Young won his second US National Championships title and had 25 consecutive wins until he was beaten just two weeks before the 1993 World Championships. In the 1993 World Championships final, he again made a decisive move between hurdles 7 and 8 and held this lead until the finish.

Never “officially” retiring, Young simply marveled in the exploits of the newer talented group of hurdlers respecting their feats and his own achievements. Young is an artist with work on display through the Art of the Olympians. He was inducted into the US Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2006.

World Record Progression in 400m Hurdles

The first world record in the men’s 400m hurdles recognized by the IAAF in 1912 was the performance by Charles Bacon at London 1908 Olympics. In a duration of 112 long years, the men’s record had been improved on 20 occasions. Glenn Foster Hardin a US athlete who broke the world record three times was the record holder for over 21 years, between 1932 and 1953. He was also the winner of 400m hurdles at the Berlin 1936 Olympics.

Edwin Moses set his first record in 1976 and improved his own world record three times. He held the record from 1976 until 1992, when it was beaten by the current record holder Kevin Young with a time of 46.78 sec at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics. The women’s world record has been improved on 17 occasions since 1974.

(The author possesses a PhD, MPhil and double MSc; his research interests encompasses Olympic Education, IOC and Sports; a recipient of National and Presidential Accolades for Academic and Sports pursuits)