Alvin Kraenzlein modernized the way track and field athletes competed in hurdling events, helping him become the first athlete to win four individual gold medals at a single Olympic Games. Entering the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, no other track and field has won four gold medals in individual events at a single Olympics.
A dental student at the University of Pennsylvania — Kraenzlein won gold in the 60-meter dash, the 110-meter hurdles, the 200-meter hurdles and the long jump at the Paris 1900 Olympic Games, establishing Olympic records in each event and prevailing in close finishes. Kraenzlein won the 60-meter dash by inches; he won the long jump by a centimeter.
In the hurdles, it was Kraenzlein’s technique that made difference. In the past, runners approached each hurdle and slowed down before jumping over each hurdle with both legs tucked. Kraenzlein changed that approach, maintaining his speed and keeping a straight leg as he began to navigate the hurdle before tucking his trail leg behind him.
Kraenzlein later served as head track coach and football coach at the University of Michigan for four years and had short stints coaching the German and Cuban national track teams.
He passed away in 1928 from heart disease at age 51.