For 27 years, 400-meter hurdler Kevin Young has followed a similar routine to celebrate his world record: Call some media outlets to drum up interest (usually, not many takers) and perform a few push-ups (just because).
That’s it. No popping of champagne. No special dinners. The American ran 46.78 seconds on Aug. 6, 1992 , on his way to Olympic gold at the Barcelona Games. It remains one of the longest-standing world records on the men’s side and yet he lives in anonymity.
Few fans recognize him. Well, sometimes he does get asked about it when he wears a chain with a good-luck charm that reads ”46.78 .” But most confuse the numbers for a birthday.
His mark will be in the spotlight at the world championships this week, because there’s a good chance it might fall. Maybe Karsten Warholm of Norway breaks it or Rai Benjamin of the U.S. Or possibly local favorite Abderrahman Samba of Qatar.
For the record, Young doesn’t want to see his mark broken — ever.
“I want to own the record as long as I can because it makes me relevant,” Young said in a phone interview. “After someone breaks it, I go from world-record holder to simply hurdles fan.”
The 53-year-old Young will skip the action inside the air-conditioned Khalifa Stadium. Sorry, he’s heading back to school with classes starting.
He was awarded a scholarship to Swansea University in Wales, where will be working on his master’s degree in sports integrity and ethics. He has an eye on possibly working for the International Olympic Committee.
However, if IAAF president Sebastian Coe really wants him to be in Doha for the 400 hurdles final on Monday, Sept. 30, he might be able to make it.
One condition: “Tell Seb to fly me in on his private jet,” Young cracked. “But remind him I have class the next day.”
The USA Track and Field Hall of Famer remains in a class by himself. He’s charismatic (he’s got stories galore), speaks his mind (feels his record should’ve been more heralded) and loves social media. He wishes Instagram would’ve been around when he broke the mark because he’s convinced it would’ve made him a “household name.”
“The real story is the lack of a story,” Young said. “I guess I shocked the world so much, they couldn’t even speak about it.”
What he did that day in Barcelona was become the first 400 hurdler to eclipse the 47-second barrier, breaking a record that had belonged to IAAF Hall of Famer Edwin Moses (47.02). Young didn’t have company in the under-47 club until Samba went 46.98 on June 30, 2018. At a race in Zurich on Aug. 29, more company was added as Warholm (46.92) and Benjamin (46.98) joined the ranks.
All three will be lining up in Doha.
“Maybe one of us manages to match or break it in the near future,” Warholm wrote in an email. “Time will show.”
Young’s pick to break the mark: Warholm by a slight lean.
Young sure would like to be there in Doha, just in case (he was in Switzerland last month). All he needs is transportation and an excuse from class.
“I’d love to be in the stadium when it goes down. I don’t want to get that elusive phone call,” he said. “But the inevitability of that happening is out there.”
Young has a good movie for you — The Young Story. It stars, well, him, and tells the tale of a kid who grew up in Watts, a neighborhood in southern Los Angeles and attended Jordan High, the same school where the late Florence Griffith-Joyner ran years earlier. He was a walk-on at UCLA and became an NCAA champion.
Then, his story really gets good.
Among the favorites to medal at the 1988 Seoul Games, Young developed a knot in his hamstring moments before the final. Immediately after the race, the knot mysteriously faded. He finished fourth as American André Phillips took gold.
To motivate himself, Young would write the time of “46.89” on paper and stuff it inside his spikes. The “89″ was a reference to his No. 1 ranking in ’89. That’s how bad he wanted the mark.
Leading into the ’92 Olympics, the ever-confident Young would pretend to win gold — at practices.
“I did the victory laps, celebrated, had the hand wave, all that,” Young recounted. “I had to turn myself into a beast.”
In his record-setting race, he started fast and only built from there. He powered right over the final hurdle and raised his right arm in celebration well before the finish line.
“I’m walking around the track that day and I’m happy,” Young said. “But in my head, I didn’t really know what to do.”
No Sports Illustrated cover, though (Gail Devers was on one week and Carl Lewis another). But a friend did give Young that necklace with “46.78” on it as a keepsake. He wears it on the gold chain he wore during that race.
“I’ve got the greatest story on Earth when it comes to track and field dreams,” Young said. “Yet no one knows about it. I’m proud of it.”