The longest-standing world record in men’s track races, set at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, recently came under threat for the first time. It could go down this season, perhaps as early as Saturday. Ask the man who has owned it for nearly 27 years, and he’ll say it’s past expiration.
“My world record should have been broken years ago by Angelo Taylor, and then it should have been broken by Kerron Clement,” Kevin Young said of the winners of three of the last five Olympic 400m hurdles. “They’re supposed to be able to with their talent level.”
But they haven’t. Up until last June, nobody had run within two tenths of a second of Young’s 46.78 seconds since he clocked it atop majestic Montjuïc at the Barcelona Games.
American Rai Benjamin and Qatari Abderrahman Samba could better it on Saturday at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai (preview and TV/stream info here). They ran 47.02 and 46.98 in separate meets last June, the second- and third-fastest 400m hurdles in history.
“It might survive this week,” NBC Sports analyst Ato Boldon said, “but it may also get destroyed.”
Boldon, then an 18-year-old Olympic rookie for Trinidad and Tobago, was so eager to be around Young and Quincy Watts that he offered to carry their bags in Barcelona. He watched the 400m hurdles final at the stadium.
“The only record left that’s probably better is Mike Powell‘s long jump,” he said.
Young had to wait his turn in the 1980s behind Edwin Moses, who won the 1984 Olympics amid a 122-race win streak. In fact, he spent the five years before the Barcelona Olympics carrying a magazine article that called him Moses’ heir, NBC Sports’ Craig Masback said.
“Edwin’s the GOAT. I’m the FOAT,” the fastest of all time, Young said by phone from his home in Georgia, where he still teaches clinics and follows the pro scene closely. Young understands Moses may never lose that title, but that his own days are numbered.
“I’m OK with that,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of firsts. First one under 47 seconds. First one to win an ESPY in track and field. No one saw me coming but me.”
Young woke every morning in the Barcelona Olympic Village staring at the number 46.89, which he wrote in pencil near his headboard. It was .13 faster than Moses’ world record at the time.
When Young clocked a hand-timed 46.68-second 400m on the practice track, the first half without hurdles and the second half with the 36-inch-high barriers, he knew sub-47 was possible come the full event.
Young said he still remembers his step pattern between the 10 hurdles in the final — 13, 13, 12, 12, 13, 13, 13, 13, 13. Tall (6 feet, 4 inches) and leaner than Moses, he was born for this event and nicknamed “Spiderman.”
“I knocked over the last hurdle, set the world record, kept running around the track and everybody went home to go visit the president,” he said. “I had to stay in Europe to go to the rest of my meets.” Young met Prince Albert of Monaco and, reportedly, the King and Queen of Sweden.
Benjamin said in an interview last year that he’s messaged with Young, who congratulated him on winning the 2018 NCAA Championships in 47.02 seconds for USC (Benjamin transferred from UCLA, which was where Young walked on to the track team).
“I told Rai that he needs to get all the money he can from shoe companies,” Young said. Benjamin turned pro last June, forgoing his last year at USC. “Don’t take less than $5 or $6 million because he deserves it. Save your money, get an insurance policy and invest it now.”
Young believes Benjamin and Samba are primed to break the record. He noted Benjamin breaking 20 seconds in the 200m in his first professional, international race, after a long college season. Samba, who didn’t become a serious 400m hurdler until 2017, broke 47 seconds a total of nine times last year with a last 150 meters that put Young on notice.
“The two of them should just concentrate on racing and put the record thing in the back of their mind, don’t even think about it,” Young said. “If they focus on competing and run fast, the record will go down.”
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