Following the 400m hurdles final race of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, four days ago, a race that has been qualified by some as the best Olympic race in history, I had the curiosity to take a close look at how both the winner and world record holder, Karsten Warholm, and the runner up, Rai Benjamin, had arrived to the competition and what was their track record in the past. For that purpose I used the website “Track and Field all-time Performances” (maintained since years ago by Peter Larsson).
With the data of all-time men’s best 400m hurdles times I plotted the chart below with the best 3,720 times (times below 49 seconds) and their dates, highlighting the times by Edwin Moses (the legend champion from the 1970s and 1980s, when he won the gold medal in two Olympics and two World championships, set the world record twice, and went unbeaten for a whole decade between 1977 and 1987 winning 107 competitions and 122 races in a row), Kevin Young (who won the event in the Olympic Games of 1992 establishing a new world record and being the first person to run the distance below 47 seconds, a record that held until a month ago), Rai Benjamin and Karsten Warholm.
- Of the fastest 102 times, those below 47.6″:
- Edwin Moses achieved 20
- Kevin Young achieved 5
- Rai Benjamin achieved 10
- Karsten Warholm achieved 14
- Alison dos Santos (bronze in the Tokyo final) achieved 6
- Kyron McMaster (4th in Tokyo) achieved 3
- Abderrahmane Samba (5th in Tokyo) achieved 10
- 43 of those 102 were achieved by 5 of the 8 runners in the starting line in Tokyo.
- It took nearly 9 years for Kevin Young to beat Edwin Moses’ record by 0.24″.
- It took nearly 29 years for Karsten Warholm to beat Kevin Young’s record, which he did on July 1st 2021, about a month ago, by 0.08″ at a Diamond League event in Oslo.
- It took just a month for Karsten Warholm to beat again his own world record by 0.76″.
Since 1992 nobody had run below 47″ until the summer of 2018. Between 2018 and 2020, Benjamin, Warholm and Samba did a combined four times between 46.87 and 46.98″. In the last month and a half Benjamin, Warholm and dos Santos have also run below 47″. The first in doing so was Benjamin at the US Olympic Trials on June 26th, when he ran in 46.83″, short of setting a world record. But just five days later at the Diamond League in Olso, Warholm beat the world record with 46.70″ (see that race here). With those times the expectation for the final last Tuesday was quite high, with the roster as in the picture below.
Instead of commenting the race I suggest to review it in Youtube. You can find many videos, for example the one below:
The result of the race: a new world record, 45.94″, first time below 46″ (remember that nobody had run below 47″ between 1992 and 2018). Rai Benjamin, silver medal, also ran below the previous world record. Alison dos Santos, bronze medal, ran in 46.72″ which would have been a world record just 5 weeks before. Both Benjamin and dos Santos set continental records. Other 3 runners in the final set their respective national records: McMaster, Copello (matching his previous best and national record) and Magi.
In other words, six of the eight runners run their best times and set either a national, continental or world record. That is why some have called this race the best Olympic race in history.