Kevin Young jumps over a hurdle during the US Olympic Trials in New Orleans, Louisana.
Kevin Young knows his world record in the men’s 400-meter hurdles may not last much longer.
And he’s OK with that. He never imagined it would stand for 28 years. “Once my record gets broken, I’m going to say, ‘What the heck have you guys been doing for almost three decades?’” Young said.
Young’s mark of 46.78 seconds, set when he won the gold medal at the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992, could go as early as today when Norway’s Karsten Warholm races at the Golden Spike meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Warholm clocked 47.62 at Tuesday's meet, well off the record.)
If the record survives 2020, it could fall next year, when Rai Benjamin of Team USA returns to action after shutting down an abbreviated season with no hurdles races due to the pandemic.
Young said he won’t send a bottle of champagne to the new world record holder. After all, no one sent one to him. “I’ll send a T-shirt – ‘Welcome to the Club,’” he said.
Warholm has relentlessly closed in on Young’s mark during his first two meets of this curtailed season. With Young in the stands, Warholm ran 47.10 in Monaco on Aug. 14.
Then Young watched on television from Switzerland as the Norwegian clocked 46.87 on Aug. 23 in Stockholm, missing by only .09. Warholm hit the 10th and last hurdle, just as Young did in Barcelona.
“I’m over my world record being broken,” Young told teamusa.org from Europe, where he is pursuing a masters degree in sports integrity and ethics. “I want to see who’s the first person to go under 46 seconds. I’m seeing Rai going 45.9 - that’s what I’m looking at.”
Warholm and Benjamin expect to be challenged next year by Abderrahman Samba of Qatar, making the 400 hurdles one of the most eagerly anticipated rivalries at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (which will keep the name despite being held in 2021).
Young & Hungry
None of them were born when Young set the record. Samba, who has not raced at all this year, just turned 25, Warholm is 24 and Benjamin celebrated his 23rd birthday in July.
“Watching Samba, Rai and Karsten, I am literally at the edge of my seat,” Young said. “Just watching the potential which they have, I’m shaking my head, going, ‘Wow, what a great time it is to be an intermediate hurdler.’
“The way these hurdles have been pushing the envelope over the past few years is incredible.”
Warholm is a two-time world champion, while Benjamin was second at the 2019 worlds in Doha and Samba came in third.
“You get talent like that every once in a blue moon,” Benjamin told teamusa.org, “and it’s just crazy that we all happen to be good at the same time right now. I feel as though once you run a certain time, you get more and more ambitious and more confident.”
He added “I always tell everyone, ‘I’m young. I’m going to be here for 20 years, so just be prepared.”
While Young likes to say that he is currently the FOAT – Fastest of All Time, “Edwin will always be the GOAT,” he said, referring to the great Edwin Moses, who won Olympic gold in 1976 and 1984 and the bronze in 1988.
Moses broke the world record four times – first in winning in Montreal with a time of 47.64, then lowering the mark to 47.45 in 1977, 47.13 in 1980 and 47.02 in 1983.
That mark held until Young shattered it, becoming the first man under 47 seconds - and with room to spare. Young compares his achievement to Bob Beamon’s world-record long jump in 1968. “It was a shock and awe to some,” he said.
The Moses Factor
Young was fourth at the 1988 Olympics, and began seriously thinking about the world record the next year after Moses had retired. “When I would think of the world record, all I would see was Edwin Moses’ face and it was just alarming,” he said. “It was basically haunting.
“Everybody wants to break a record; everybody had 47.02 in their head at the time. So I said, ‘Let me get rid of that image of Edwin Moses and put my own image in there.’”
In the next 26 years, it was Young’s image in everyone’s mind. No one came close – not even Young - except fellow American Bryan Bronson, who posted an astonishing time of 47.03 in 1998 and then dropped out of sight.
In the meantime, Americans continued their dominance of an event in which Team USA has won 19 of the 26 Olympic gold medals. Derrick Adkins won gold in 1996, Angelo Taylor was the champion in 2000 and 2008 and Kerron Clement prevailed in 2016.
But the record remained out of reach. It is the oldest men’s record on the track (four men’s field event records are older).
“I figured Angelo was going to do it, or Kerron was going to do it years ago,” said Young, who will be 54 on Sept. 16.
But except for Bronson, no one even flirted with breaking 47 seconds until another 20 years went by. Suddenly, Young’s record was on the endangered list.
Samba went 46.98 in 2018, and then in the Diamond League final in Zurich last year – with Young in the audience - Warholm clocked 46.92 and Benjamin was second at 46.98.
They went on to worlds in October, where Benjamin was hampered by a bone bruise. Warholm won with a time of 47.42, followed by Benjamin (47.66) and Samba (48.03).
“I literally had to rest for three weeks,” Benjamin said. “There’s not much you can do when you can’t really walk at all.”