This week in 1900, Milwaukee’s Alvin Kraenzlein won his fourth gold medal at the summer Olympics in Paris. Kraenzlein was a pioneer in hurdling, perfecting the lead-leg technique still used to this day.
Kraenzlein grew up in Milwaukee and began running while a student at Milwaukee’s East Side High School. He then went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he joined the track team and soon dominated college events. Kraenzlein’s success caught the eye of the track coach at the University of Pennsylvania, Mike Murphy, who convinced Kraenzlein to transfer schools.
It was there, under the guidance of Murphy, that Kraenzlein began to experiment with his hurdling method. At the time, most hurdlers ran up to the hurdle, slowed down, and hopped over with both legs tucked before running on to the next hurdle. Kraenzlein tried something different. He extended one leg straight over the hurdle and kept the other tucked back. He didn’t slow down. He kept running, leaping over the hurdles in a fluid motion that soon became the way everyone did it.
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Kraenzlein brought his technique to Paris where he won the 110-meter hurdles, the long jump, the 60-meter dash and the 200-meter hurdles on July 16, 1900. We say he won gold, but medals weren’t handed out until the 1904 games. Instead, winning athletes at these games won valuable works of art.
Athletes don’t win paintings anymore, but they do hurdle like Kraenzlein.