Our countdown of the greatest Olympic athletes for each event group continues with the men’s hurdles
No athlete in the history of track and field has dominated their event to the extent of Ed Moses in the 400m hurdles. Between September 1977 and June 1987 – a span of almost 10 years – the American won 122 consecutive races, picking up two Olympic gold medals along the way.
Moses was just 20 years old when he started to focus on the 400m hurdles. Within a matter of weeks of training for the event, he made staggering progress and won the US Trials, booking his place on the team for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
He was set to face reigning champion and world record-holder John Akii-Bua as well as the European and Commonwealth champion Alan Pascoe. But Akii-Bua was prevented from competing by the African boycott, while Pascoe was carrying an injury and was not at his best.
This left Moses as the favourite, but instead of coasting to an easy victory in the absence of his rivals, he showed that he would have been unbeatable regardless as she won by more than a second, breaking the world record with 47.63 – not bad for a newcomer to the event!
Having quickly established himself as a new star in athletics, Moses continued his progress in 1977 and improved his world record with 47.45. But in August at the ISTAF meeting in Berlin, he suffered a surprise defeat to a man who would become one of his arch-rivals, Harald Schmidt. The West German won in 49.07 to Moses’ 49.29.
But one week later, and still on Schmidt’s home soil in Düsseldorf, Moses gained revenge on Schmidt at the World Cup. Winning by 15 metres, Moses ran the second-fastest time in history at that point with 47.58 – the first victory of his 122-meet winning streak that would continue over the following nine years, nine months and nine days.
In 1979 he successfully defended his World Cup title, and the following year he took another chunk off his world record with 47.13. He would have been one of the biggest favourites of any sportsperson at the Olympic Games that year, but the US boycott meant that Moses could not compete in Moscow.
Moses, whose trademark was a 13-step stride pattern throughout the whole of the race, became the inaugural world champion of the event in 1983. Three weeks after his triumph in Helsinki, he set his fourth – and ultimately final – world record, clocking 47.02 in Koblenz.
In 1984 Moses had the opportunity to regain his Olympic title at the Los Angeles Games. But at the US Trials a new young talent emerged in the form of Danny Harris. The 18-year-old set a still-standing world junior record of 48.02 in the semis before finishing second to Moses in the final.
Seven weeks later in the Olympic final, the gap between the pair was almost identical to the one at the Trials, as Moses won in 47.75 to Harris’s 48.13.
As was the case in 1982, Moses was forced to sit out the 1985 season through injury and could only look on as Harris established himself as the top 400m hurdler in the world that year, improving to 47.63.
But in 1986 Moses returned to top form and picked up where he left off, enjoying another undefeated season and posting a world-leading 47.38.
Less than a year later, however, Harris ended Moses’ winning streak at a race in Madrid, 47.56 to 47.69. But Moses twice got his own back later that year – first in Berlin and then, more importantly, at the World Championships in Rome. One day after turning 32 years old, Moses beat his younger rival by just two hundredths to win his second world title.
Although his winning streak had come to an end in 1987, Moses was still one of the top hurdlers in the world during the 1988 season and proved it by winning the US Trials. In the highest-quality race of all time where five men broke 48 seconds, Moses won in 47.37.
But with the stakes even higher in the Olympic final later that year, Moses was beaten into the bronze medal position. Team-mate André Phillips, who finished second to Moses at the Trials, went out fast and although he was challenged by both Moses and Senegal’s Amadou Dia Bâ, he held on to win in a big PB of 47.19.
Moses, now 33, finished third in 47.56. It was his 45th sub-48 clocking and the final race of his career.
The other athletes who received votes from readers of Athletics Weekly.
The American defeated team-mate and reigning world champion Greg Foster to win the 110m hurdles gold at the 1984 Olympics, setting an Olympic record of 13.20. He successfully defended his title four years later, setting another Olympic record of 12.98. One year later he won the world indoor title and set a world record of 12.92 for the 110m hurdles.
The American won two Olympic titles in the 400m hurdles more than 20 years before Ed Moses achieved the feat. After setting a world record at the 1956 US Trials, Davis duly won gold at the Melbourne Games. In 1960 he was an even bigger favourite and lived up to expectations, leading another US sweep.
Two close Olympic 110m hurdles finals saw the American come out on top on both occasions. Calhoun edged out Jack Davis to strike gold in 1956, then lived up to his favourite status in 1960 to lead the fourth successive US sweep of the medals in the event at the Olympics.
As a 22-year-old, the American finished outside the medals in a high-quality 400m hurdles final in 1988. Four years later, Young headed to Barcelona with a PB of 47.72, but shocked the athletics world with a world record of 46.78 in the final to win gold. It remains the world record to this day.
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