Men’s 400m Intermediate Hurdles All-time Greats
So I’ve revised the All-Time Greats list for the men’s 400 meter intermediate hurdles for the first time since creating the initial list four years ago. This time, as with the updated 110m hurdle list, I’ve tried to make it more objective by listing specific criteria and using a 1-10 point system. As with that one, you’re always welcome to disagree with my assessments and analysis.
The criteria I chose for creating the list is the same as for the 110 list, and includes the following, with all having equal weight:
- Olympic medals won
2. Other major championship medals won
3. How far the athlete advanced the event in terms of world records and technical innovations
4. The athlete’s longevity (performing at a very high level for a very long time)
- For Olympic medals, the A-standard (10 pts) consists of two gold medals, which was accomplished by Edwin Moses and Angelo Taylor.
- For other major championship medals, the A-standard (10 pts) consists of two World Championship gold medals for hurdlers who competed from 1983 to the present. For those from the old school, AAU championships, NCAA championships, and any international competitions (Pan-Am Games, US vs. USSR, etc.) factor in. For those who bridge the gap (i.e. Moses, Phillips, Schmid), both will be considered.
- For advancement of the event, setting a world record and setting new standards for technical mastery comprise the A-standard (10 pts).
- For longevity, being a top-ten hurdler in the world for ten years or more is the A-standard.
Based on those criteria, here are my picks for the top ten hurdlers of all time, counting down:
At tenth I have Bershawn Jackson. I gave Jackson a 4 for Olympic medals; he has no golds at this point, and one bronze from 2008. I gave him a 9 for WC medals because of his 2005 victory in 47.30 in the pouring rain – one of the best 400h races ever. He also finished third in 2009. For advancement I gave him an 8 for being one of the best hurdlers throughout the 2000s. I gave him an 8 for longevity for the same reason, although this number could raise in the future if he continues with the level of success he has achieved up to this point. Jackson’s total score is a 29 out of a possible 40.
At ninth I have Rex Cawley. I gave him a 9 for Olympic medals, based on his gold medal victory in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. I gave him a 9 for other championship races, as he won the AAU championship twice and the NCAA championship in 1963. I gave him a 10 for advancement, since in the same year of his Olympic victory, he won the Olympic US trials in a world record time of 49.1. I gave him a 3 for longevity, since he basically retired after 1965. Like many others of that era, he was a victim of the fact that amateur track back then was truly amateur. Cawley’s total score is a 31.
At eighth I have Angelo Taylor. I gave him a 10 for Olympic medals due to his gold medals in 2000 and 2008. Only the great Edwin Moses has as many Olympic golds. Both of his golds were remarkable, though in different ways. The 2000 race was notable for the fact that he ran in lane one – a very difficult lane for a 400 hurdler, when you’re negotiating tight turns on the curve. John Akii-Bua, in 1972, is the only other to win a gold medal in this event out of lane one. Taylor’s second gold was notable because it came a full eight years after his first one, and after he had had some down years that led many to believe that he was finished. I gave him a 2 for WC medals because he has never medaled in a World Championships. I gave him an 8 for advancement because, like Jackson, he’s been one of the top hurdlers of the 2000s. I gave him a 10 for longevity for the same reason. Two win two gold medals eight years apart says all that needs to be said for his longevity. Taylor’s total score then is also a 30, but I gave the nod to him over Cawley because of the two Olympic gold medals, and the longer career.
At seventh I have Samuel Matete. I gave him a 6 for Olympic medals based on his silver behind Derrick Adkins in 1996. I gave him a 9 for WC medals based on his gold in 1991 and two silvers (1993 and 1995). I gave him an 8 for advancement for being one of the top hurdlers throughout the decade of the 1990s, and for his personal best of 47.10, which is the 3rd-fastest of all-time. I gave him an 9 for longevity for being one of the top intermediate hurdlers in the world from 1990 through 2000. Matete’s total score is a 32.
At sixth I have Danny Harris. I gave him an 8 for Olympic medals because of his silver medal in 1984. I know that 8 is a high score for a silver medal, but finishing second to Edwin Moses carries more weight than most silvers, in any event. I gave him an 8 for his silver medal in the 1987 WC’s, based on the same logic as his 8 in the previous category. For advancement I gave him an 8 based on being the athlete who ended Moses’ 9-year winning streak. I gave him an 8 for longevity; he had a good seven-year run from 1984-1991, although he had a couple down years in there. And he even ran sub-48 in his comeback in 1995. Harris’ total score is a 32.
At fifth I have Kerron Clement. I gave him a 6 for Olympic medals for his silver medal in 2008. I gave him a 10 for WC medals for his gold medals in 2007 and 2009. Although it is somewhat fair to bemoan his lack of consistency as a whole, the fact that he has won two golds and a silver over the span of 2007-2009 speaks for itself. I gave him an 8 for advancement for being the best hurdler of the latter part of the decade (2005-2010) and for maintaining the high standards of previous generations. I gave him an 8 for longevity. He has run sub-48 every year from 2005 to 2010. His total score is a 32, but I give him the nod over Harris because of the two WC gold medals.
At fourth I have Kevin Young. I gave him a 9 for Olympic medals based on his 1992 gold medal victory in Barcelona. I gave him a 9 for WC medals based on his 1993 victory. I gave him a 10 for advancement based on his world record Olympic race of 46.78 – still the only sub-47 in history. His innovation of twelve-stepping hurdles 4 and 5 was also quite remarkable, and enabled him to run that world record time. I gave him a 4 for longevity. Due to injury, he really didn’t do much on a world-class level after 1993. Young’s total score is a 33.
At third I have Andre Phillips. I gave him a 9 for Olympic medals, based on his gold medal in the 1988 Olympics. You could argue that he deserves a 10 here for beating Moses in that race, but Harris had already ended Moses’ winning streak the previous year. For other major championships I gave Phillips an 8. He never medaled in any world championships, but he won a lot of major meets in the pre-WC era and finished behind Moses in plenty of others. I gave him an 8 for advancement for being one of the main athletes who chased Moses throughout the 1980s, and for helping push the world record down into the 47-low range. I gave him a 9 for longevity because he lasted a good 9-10 years among the best in the world. Phillips’ total score is a 34.
At second I have Felix Sanchez. I gave him a 9 for Olympic medals, based on his gold medal in Athens in 2004. I gave him a 10 for WC medals, based on his golds in 2001 and 2003, and his silver in 2007. I gave him an 8 for advancement because of his dominance in the early 2000s. Really, nobody has advanced the event beyond where Moses took it, so with this category I’m giving credit to athletes for maintaining that level of excellence more so than building upon it. For longevity, I gave him an 8. He was dominant from 2001-2004, suffered injuries for the middle part of the decade, and has run at a world-class level upon returning from injuries, although nowhere near the level he was at in the early part of the decade. Sanchez’ total score is a 35.
At number one I have Edwin Moses (surprise!). He’s arguably the most dominant athlete in the history of sports, much less the history of the 400m hurdles. I gave him a 10 for Olympic medals because of his golds in Montreal in 1976, and in Los Angeles in 1984. No doubt he would’ve won another won in 1980 if not for the boycott, and he earned a bronze in 1988. Enough said about that. I gave him a 10 for WC medals; his decade-long winning streak included a gold medal in the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki in 1983, and he won another WC gold in Rome in 1987. Prior to the WC days, he was winning World Cups and US Nationals out the wazoo. I gave him a 13 for advancement because he broke the world record four times: in 1976 (47.63), 1977 (47.45), 1980 (47.13), and 1983 (47.02). In addition, there was the winning streak I already mentioned. Finally, there’s the fact that only one other athlete – Kevin Young – has ever run faster than Moses, and he only did so once. To this day, Moses remains the A-standard for all things intermediate-hurdle-related, whether you’re talking about times, stride pattern, training methods, whatever. He’s still ahead of his time, a good twenty years after his time. I gave him a 10 for longevity because he stayed at the top from 1976 through 1988 (except for a couple years that he took off). Moses’ total score is a 43.
There were several notable athletes who didn’t make the list but came very close, including Harald Schmid, Derrick Adkins, John Akii-Bua, and David Hemery. Let me give brief explanations for all of those:
Schmid scored a 29 overall, tying him with Jackson for tenth. I gave the nod there to Jackson because of his one World Championship victory, and the fact that his personal best is faster.
Adkins scored a 28 overall. The fact that he didn’t make the list while Matete did might seem odd, considering that Adkins defeated Matete at both the 1995 WC’s and the 1996 Olympics, but Adkins was negatively affected by the brevity of his career. I gave him a 4 in the longevity department, which was the main factor that kept him from making my top ten.
Akii-Bua scored a 27 overall. He scored very highly on advancement for breaking the world record and for being the first athlete to run under 48-flat (47.82). He also scored highly for being an Olympic champion in 1972. But he too was hurt by a lack of longevity, as well as by a lack of victories in other major championships.
Hemery scored a 28 overall. He too was an Olympic champion (1968) and world record holder, but, like Akii-Bua, was hurt by a lack of other major championships and a lack of longevity.
© 2010 Steve McGill