Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

“It’s like winning Olympic gold again”: World record holder Kevin Young on life after the 400m hurdles

Posted on 14 February 2020 by Julia Cook

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What can you do in 46.78 seconds? 

That’s all it took for American Kevin Young to run 400m, clear ten hurdles, and take home not only the Olympic gold medal, but also the world record.

His record for one of track and field’s most gruelling events still stands strong 28 years after the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Young was the first person to run the 400m hurdles in under 47 seconds but since then he has been joined by three others, all of whom are competing today.

Compatriot Rai Benjamin, Qatari athlete Abderrahman Samba and Norwegian Karsten Warholm, are working hard to ensure that Young’s world record won’t stand for much longer. 

It is such the nature of the sport that Young knows all three of them. Speaking over Instagram, they discuss their event and their mutual love of hurdling. 

“It’s great seeing that not just one, not just two, but three athletes running under 47 seconds,” Young says.

“I think that’s amazing that the young runners are finally catching up to something I did years ago. It lets me know that I actually did something that was pretty phenomenal.

“It’s incredible to watch them race because I know how difficult it was for myself to reach that level.”

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Young is still the Olympic record holder in the event too, but says he doesn’t think that his records will fall in Tokyo. 

“I don’t think [the world record] will be done in the Olympics. I can say that. Or I can wish it doesn’t happen.

“The interesting thing about it is not that the record will be broken, it’s who’s going to run under 46 seconds first.

“I’ve already broken the 47 second barrier, so who’s going run the 46? That’s what’s in my head.”

Young shows great admiration for the three top hurdlers, and says there’s more to come.

“They’re all incredibly talented. However, I think they’re still developing.

“It took me six years to actually develop into the person that ended up setting a world record.  And I think in the case of older individuals, they’re working to get to that point within themselves.

“There’s a shelf life on my record, it’s just a matter of time.”

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The coast of South West Wales might be one of the last places you’d expect to find the American world record holder, and yet it is here he started his Master’s degree.

The Erasmus Mundus MA in Sports Ethics and Integrity that Young is undertaking boasts no fewer than seven former Olympians in his class, holding two Olympic gold medals, three silvers, a bronze, and a world record between them.

When Young was growing up he had dreams of going to the College of Engineering at USC, but instead ended up at UCLA. Now, all these years later, he finds himself studying at the College of Engineering in Swansea.

You wouldn’t think that many things could come close to his achievements on the track, but studying for his Master’s comes close, says Young.

“I had no idea that I’d be here. And so I’m constantly appreciating the fact that I have this opportunity. It feels like winning the Olympic gold medal again, like setting the world record. 

“The feeling that I had when I did it, was totally unexpected, but I knew I was capable of doing it. So I just had that realisation and I was like, wow. It’s like winning the gold medal over again.”

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His experiences as an elite athlete have proven invaluable for his studies.

 “The best thing is we’re having these discussions about athletes in cases of doping and all those concerns with national governing bodies, and I’m like ‘I was there. I was literally there.’

“I’ve told myself ‘maybe they’re studying me as opposed to being the other way around.’ I’m reading all this information in these books and I’m just a fan. I’m a fan of athletics but I love education.”

Doping is a critical issue within athletics at the moment and it’s something that features heavily in Young’s studies.

“You hear that phrase ‘everybody was doing it.’ I go, no, no, that’s not right. Everybody wasn’t taking drugs. That’s BS. That’s crap. 

“I never really had a voice talking against drugs. I said I never did anything. So why would I even have this conversation?

“If someone were to break a world record, I can’t sit back and say ‘they were on drugs’ because well I wasn’t on drugs and I broke a world record.”

Young enjoys the relative anonymity in his new life in Swansea, one that will soon take him to Belgium for the next phase of his studies. 

He’s done talks at the university athletics club and met athletics fans but for the most part enjoys a quiet life. A few people have innocently asked him if he plays any sports, leaving themselves red faced when they eventually realise they’re talking to a world record holder.

“It’s kinda cool being [in Swansea]. I think I probably need to do some Instagram posts and stuff like that. 

“Growing up in the neighbourhood you have to insulate yourself so much. It becomes a part of you. I’m a public figure but I’m a private person, so I juggle that.”

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It’s the connections that Young has made in sport that he says have shaped his life. 

This started when he grew up in a house that was sold to his mother by Edwin Moses, one of the greatest 400m hurdlers of all time, who famously went 122 races unbeaten and took home two Olympic titles.

“I’ve just got all these great connections with individuals and people that are hallmarks of the sport.”

“[At UCLA] I was watching the world-class athletes train, and it just blew my mind and humbled me. I was like ‘wow the creator has a way of lining things up and making things happen.’”

Young’s love of the sport and of his event is very clear. He stays involved by chatting to the leading athletes, he’s invited to events and conferences, and he has plenty of ideas for the sport. 

There’s not as many opportunities for a lot of the up and coming athletes as I had.

“Athletes need that international competition, need to race and face those individuals so they can get better, their self esteem, confidence, their game plan, race strategy, those sorts of things. 

“Those opportunities aren’t there. And even now, recently, they limited the number of races.

“Everything is just so exclusive and you can’t be exclusive with track. You’ve got to be inclusive.”