The bullet of Barcelona
In the men’s 400m hurdles final at Barcelona 1992 Kevin Young became the first and only man ever to run the event in under 47 seconds, setting a new world record that has stood ever since.
History in the making
As the men’s 400m hurdles finals unfolded before them on a golden August afternoon in 1992, the 80,000 spectators in Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium knew that they were witnessing something special. Only taking their eyes away from the track to check the clocks on the giant screens, they saw the USA’s Kevin Young power down the back straight, destroying the field in the process.
Taking 12 strides between hurdles before switching to 13, he came out of the final bend with a massive lead. After clearing the final hurdle, Young lifted his right arm in triumph five metres from the line, before stopping the clock in a stunning world record time of 46.78 and receiving a rapturous ovation from the crowd.
Looking back on his outstanding achievement, the American listed the reasons behind it: “A lot of hard work and sacrifices, great coaching, a huge investment and, more than anything else, one hell of a race.” It was a race no one has been able to repeat, with Young remaining the one and only man to dip under 47 seconds in the event, his world record still very much intact.
Building for Barcelona
Young honed his hurdling skills under the watchful eye of athletics coach John Smith at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), having earned a scholarship to study sociology. He was 21 when he took part in his first Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988, finishing fourth in a final won by his compatriot Andre Philips. Regularly clocking under 48 seconds at the distance thereafter, in 1989 he ran 47.86, the fastest time of the year and he continued to make progress in the seasons that foIlowed, going unbeaten in 1992 and easily winning the US Olympic trials in New Orleans in June that year, posting a time of 47.89 to qualify in style for the Barcelona Games.
A world champion in 93
Young’s gold medal winning time in Barcelona shaved 0.24 seconds off the previous world record, set by two-time Olympic champion and fellow American Edwin Moses in 1983 in Koblenz (GER), and led to him being named IAAF World Athlete of the Year for 1992. Though beaten at a number of meetings by Zambia’s Samuel Matete the following season, Young got the better of his African rival with another breathtaking performance in the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart (GER), winning gold in 47.18, which remains one of the ten fastest times in 400m hurdles history.
A national hero
Injuries dogged Young for the rest of his career and prevented him from ever starring again at international level, though he continued to compete through to the next decade. In 2006, he was inducted into the USA’s National Track Field Hall of Fame, deservedly taking his place among the greatest athletes his country has ever produced.