Alvin Kraenzlein, Ann Arbor, 1911
|Born||December 12, 1876
|Died||January 6, 1928 (aged 51)
|Occupation||Athletics (sport) competitor|
|Representing the United States|
|1900 Paris||60 metres|
|1900 Paris||110 metre hurdles|
|1900 Paris||200 metres hurdles|
|1900 Paris||Long jump|
Alvin Christian "Al" Kraenzlein (December 12, 1876 – January 6, 1928), known as "the father of the modern hurdling technique", was an American track-and-field athlete, and the first sportsman in the history of Olympic games to win four individual gold medals in a single discipline at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. Before, Carl Schuhmann, a German athlete, won four Olympic titles in gymnastics and wrestling at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens. As of 2016[update], Alvin Kraenzlein is the only track-and-field athlete who has won four individual titles at one Olympics. Kraenzlein is also known for developing a pioneering technique of straight-leg hurdling, which allowed him to set two world hurdle records. He is an Olympic Hall of Fame (1984) and USA Track & Field (1974) inductee.
Kraenzlein was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a son of Johann Georg Kränzlein, a brewer, and Maria Augusta Schmidt, both of a German origin. After his family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he attended the Milwaukee’s East Side High School, where he became involved in sports. In 1895, during the Wisconsin Interscholastic Championships, he won first places in the 100-yard dash, 120-yard high hurdles, 220-yard low hurdles, high jump, and shot put.
He attended the University of Wisconsin where he studied engineering. In 1896, he won the 220-yard low hurdles, the high jump and placed second in the 100-yard dash and shot put at the freshman-sophomore track-and-field meet. During the 1897 Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship, Kraenzlein won the 220-yard low hurdles and the high jump. He led the Wisconsin team to the team title. He also won the 1897 Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) title in the 220-yard low hurdles. In 1897 Alvin Kraenzlein set an indoor world record of 36.6 seconds in the 300-yard low hurdles.
After winning his first athletics title in 1897 - the 220 yards hurdles race at the AAU championship, Kraenzlein achieved more notability by winning five AAU titles in both hurdling and long jump events, and eight Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America titles in dash, hurdling and the long jump. Being a student at the University of Philadelphia, he established world records for the 120 meter high hurdles and the 220 meter low hurdles, the last standing for quarter of a century. In 1899, Kraenzlein established the long jump world record of 24' 3 1/2". He was a leader of the Penn's track-and-field team that won four consecutive team IC4A titles.
Kraenzlein was especially noted for his hurdling technique, as he was among the first to practice the modern method of straight-lead-leg (the first leg over the hurdle remains straight and parallel with the ground) hurdle clearing. Arthur C. M. Croome from Great Britain first attempted the straight-lead-leg style in 1886, however, Alvin Kraenzlein perfected it and turned into a mainstream technique. This was significant development, as it enabled athletes to over-come the hurdles without reducing speed.
The world's spotlight
In 1900, Kraenzlein was training for the Summer Olympics in England. He won the British Amateur Athletic Association (BAAA) Championships in London in the 120 yards hurdles and the long jump before entering the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. He established a world record in the 120 yards hurdles for grass tracks.
Alvin Kraenzlein became the most successful athlete of the 1900 Olympics. There, during three days of competitions he won four titles establishing new Olympic record every time:
- 60-meter dash (7.0 seconds)
- 110-meter high hurdles (15.4 seconds)
- 200-meter low hurdles (25.4 seconds)
- Long jump (7.185 m (23' 6 3/4"))
In the 60 meters, he ran both the preliminary and final in 7.0 seconds, defeating Walter Tewksbury by bare inches in the finals. His victory in the long jump was remarkable, as Kraenzlein defeated silver medallist Meyer Prinstein, his great rival from Syracuse University, only by a single centimeter. Prinstein's mark had been set in the qualification, and he did not attend the final, because it was held on a Sunday. As it was said, the two had an informal agreement not to compete on Sunday, and when Prinstein learned that Kraenzlein did show up he became violent, allegedly punching Kraenzlein according to some accounts (others claim that Prinstein was restrained before he could land the punch).
Altogether, thirteen student athletes from the University of Pennsylvania competed in the track events in Paris. They distinguished themselves with twenty medals including eleven gold awards.
After the 1900 Olympic Games, Kraenzlein retired from athletic competition in late 1900, as the owner of six world and four Olympic records. He came back to Milwaukee and started a dental practice. Kraenzlein also became a manager of the Milwaukee Athletic Association. In 1902, having returned to Philadelphia, he married Claudine Gilman, whom he knew from the student days. He practiced dentistry in Philadelphia till 1906 when he became the track-and-field coach at Mercersburg Academy, a selective prep school in Pennsylvania. Amongst his students was Ralph Craig, a future Olympic titleholder in both the 100 and 200 meters in 1912 Olympic Games.
In 1913 he signed a five-year $50,000 contract with the German government to train the 1916 German Olympic track team (this was canceled due to the outbreak of World War I). With World War I coming, Kraenzlein served in the U.S. Army as a physical training specialist. When the war ended, he became an assistant coach for the University of Pennsylvania track team. He also coached at summer camps and at the Havana Golf and Tennis Club in Cuba in the winter.
- List of multiple Olympic gold medalists at a single Games
- List of Michigan Wolverines football trainers
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- The Pennsylvania Gazette: Weekly Magazine of the University of Pennsylvania. 26 (7). 1927.
- Journal of the History of Dentistry: Official Publication of the American Academy of the History of Dentistry, 2000, Volumes 48-49.