As part of our event-by-event look back at the Olympics, this time it’s the turn of the men’s 400m hurdles

1900-2012

The event has been consistently dominated by Americans and they won the first gold in Paris in 1900 as John Tewksbury defeated home favourite Henri Tauzin in 57.6.

The hurdles were 30ft telephone poles and a water jump was also negotiated!

In St Louis in 1904, as the USA clean-sweeped, Harry Hillman won in 53.0, compared to the world record of 57.2. It wouldn’t have been a record as he knocked down a hurdle which was against the then rules and the hurdles were only 2ft 9” instead of the usual three feet.

The event wasn’t held in 1906 and in 1908, Hillman was a close second but lost to Charles Bacon’s 55.0.

Bacon took home the gold medal and also took the world record though he did leave his lane and clear a hurdle in another lane. He survived disqualification as the judges decided he had run further with his mistake.

The event wasn’t held in 1912 and returned post war in 1920. America clean-sweeped again as Frank Loomis improved the world record to 54.0 in defeating the previous record-holder John Norton.

Fourth-placer Georges Andre of France had previously won the high jump silver in 1908. Andre finished fourth again in 1924 in Paris. Morgan Taylor easily bettered Loomis’s world record with 52.6 but knocked a hurdle down and had to settle just for the gold. Second across the line was Charles Brookins but he was disqualified for a lane infringement. Third across the line was Erik Vilen who curiously gained the Olympic record of 53.8.

Morgan Taylor won a bronze in 1928 and again in 1932 in Los Angeles. The gold medal there went to Cambridge University student Robert Tisdall, who was representing Ireland. He had only run his first hurdles race that year and his best was 54.2 until he ran 52.8 in the semi-final to equal the Olympic record just set by favourite Glenn Hardin.

In the final, Tisdall had a clear lead but hit the last hurdle badly and stumbled but still won by two metres in 51.7. That would have been a world record but for the hurdle coming down and therefore Hardin’s 51.9 became the world record.

Hardin never lost another race and in 1934, his 50.6 took a second off the world record and that mark stood for 19 years. In Berlin in 1936 he won gold with a time of 52.4.

Post World War II, American domination continued. Leroy Cochrane in London in 1948 (51.1) Charles Moore in Helsinki in 1952 (50.8) and Glenn Davis in Melbourne in 1956 (50.1) all set or equalled Olympic records.

Davis, who had set a world record of 49.5 in the US trials, retained his title in Rome in 1960 with a 49.3 to just miss his then world record of 49.2.

The other medallists in Rome, Clifton Cushman and Richard Howard – both died young – Cushman in the Vietnam War aged 28 and Howard of a heroin overdose aged 32. Coincidentally so did the 1964 silver medallist John Cooper who died in a plane crash, aged 33. That race was won by American Rex Cawley.

US dominance ended in 1968 (see British successes below) and 1972. In Munich, John Akii-Bua smashed David Hemery’s four-year-old world record of 48.12 with a stunning 47.82 from lane one to win Uganda’s first ever Olympic gold in any event.

He couldn’t defend due to the African boycott but he would have been hard pressed to have challenged Ed Moses in Montreal in 1976.

The 20-year-old had only just taken up the event and it was his first international meeting but he still powered to a one second plus victory in a world record 47.63.

Moses also couldn’t defend due to a boycott and in Moscow in 1980, East Germany’s Volker Beck won in a relatively modest 48.70.

Moses returned to regain his title in Los Angeles in 1984 in 47.75. From August 26 1977 to June 4 1987, the American had an astonishing winning streak of 107 finals.

After his loss, he still won his second world title in 1987 and then in Seoul in 1988, he ran his fastest Olympic time with a 47.56 but could only finish third. Gold went to his team-mate Andre Phillips, who had lost his previous 20 clashes to Moses in an Olympic record 47.19. He only won by inches as Amadou Ba almost caught him on the line with a 47.23 as he won Senegal’s first medal at any event.

The 1995 world champion Derrick Adkins won in Atlanta in 1996 in 47.54 with his main rival Samuel Matete of Zambia not helped by running in lane one.

Running in the inside lane didn’t stop Angelo Taylor winning in Sydney in 2000. Only in fourth place when he took the eighth hurdle, he finished strongly and edged Saudi’s Hadi Somayi by less than a foot in a PB 47.50.

In 2004 in Athens, the 2001 and 2003 world champion Felix Sanchez extended his unbeaten finals record to 36 as he won easily in 47.63 to win the Dominican Republic’s first gold medal in any sport.

Taylor regained his title in style in Beijing and improved his eight year-old PB from Sydney with a clear win in 47.25.

There was another surprise in London in 2012 as 34-year-old Sanchez, who had been eliminated in the heats in 2008 and been eighth and fourth in the next two world championships, spectacularly returned to form to win gold in 47.63 to exactly match his winning time in Athens.

Most memorable Olympic 400m hurdles: Barcelona 1992

In Barcelona in 1992, the three athletes who had finished fourth, fifth and sixth in Seoul in 1988 all advanced three places to take the medals.

There was a clear winner though in one of the greatest ever athletics performances at any event. Kevin Young destroyed his four year-old PB of 47.73 and the opposition by almost a second with a historic 46.78, which still stands unchallenged as the current world record.

After a seemingly perfect first 350 metres, it might have been faster had he not smashed the last hurdle and started his celebrations with a raised arm eight metres before the finish.

Jamaican Winthrop Graham finished second while Britain’s Kriss Akabusi finished third in a still-standing British record of 47.82.

Future world champion Stephane Diagana finished fourth in 48.13.

British successes

Jimmy Tremeer won Britain’s first medal – a bronze in London in 1908.

Lord David Burghley took UK’s first title at Amsterdam in 1928 with an Olympic record of 53.4 as world record-holder Morgan Taylor finished third.

Burghley later became an MP and was then British Athletics president and IAAF president for 30 years.

Britain had to wait 36 years for its next medal as John Cooper took silver in Tokyo in 1964.

In the altitude of Mexico in 1968, David Hemery destroyed the opposition with a world record 48.1. John Sherwood, husband of long jump medallist Sheila, picked up a surprise bronze.

In Munich in 1972, Hemery went through 200m in a much faster 22.8 but faded to third as he was beaten comfortably by Akii-Bua.

Britain was expected to have medal chances in Montreal in 1976 as Alan Pascoe was world no.1 in 1975. However after injury, he wasn’t at his best in Canada and after trying to match Moses, he faded to last.

The UK made it five medals in five games in 1980 though as unheralded Gary Oakes benefitted from the boycott to snatch a bronze in 49.11.

Britain’s only other medal came in Barcelona through Kriss Akabusi.

» Check out editions of Athletics Weekly magazine from September 24, 2015, for more from our ‘Countdown to Rio’ series

» For the full Olympic history: Men’s 400m hurdles feature, including a complete list of medallists and further facts and stats, see the February 11, 2016, edition of AW magazine