Alvin Kraenzlein is a four-time Olympic champion in track and field (1900, Paris) and a 1981 Hall of Fame inductee.
Kraenzlein was born on December 12th, 1876, in Milwaukee, WI. He began his athletic career at the University of Wisconsin, where he competed on the track and field team, excelling in the sprints, hurdles and long jump. In 1898, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania to study dentistry, and joined the track and field team under coach Mike Murphy. It was there that he perfected the signature technique that would lead him to two Olympic hurdles gold medals.
While hurdlers of the time would jump over barriers in much the same way as modern-day steeplechasers – slowing as they approached the hurdle and jumping with a bent leg – Kraenzlein used a straight-leg technique, extending his lead leg parallel to the ground, a technique that allowed him to maintain speed. The NYAC man is, thus, recognized at the “father of the modern hurdling technique.”
At the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris, Kraenzlein’s new technique came to light on the world stage. He won the gold medal in the 110m hurdles with a time of 15.4 seconds, an Olympic record, and also took the crown in the 200m hurdles (25.4 seconds). His third gold medal came in the 60m, in which he equaled the world record of 7.00 seconds. His fourth gold – in the long jump – was arguably the most challenging of them all.
Standing in Kraenzlein’s way in the long jump was Myer Prinstein from Syracuse University. Prinstein was the world record holder (7.50m/24’ 7 ¼”) and, in his career, would accumulate four Olympic gold medals – but only one of those came in Paris, and not in the long jump. Unfortunately for Prinstein, Syracuse University did not allow any of its athletes to compete on Sundays, the day of the Paris long jump final. Ironically, Prinstein was Jewish. In the spirit of sportsmanship, he and Kraenzlein came to an agreement that neither would compete in the final, relying on their distances in the qualifying rounds to determine their ultimate placings. (That rule no longer exists; jumps from qualifying rounds do not count in modern-day finals). Kraenzlein competed anyway, jumping an Olympic record of 23’ 7”, 0.5” further than Prinstein’s leap in the qualifiers. The NYAC man thus earned his fourth Olympic gold medal in three days.
Prinstein was incensed. Depending on which report you accept, upon learning of his rival’s seeming deceit, he either punched Kraenzlein in the face or had to be restrained from doing so.
Kraenzlein’s Olympic career ended after the 1900 Paris Games. He went on to serve as a coach at the University of Michigan, and later at the University of Pennsylvania. He passed away on January 6th, 1928 at the age of 51 due to endocarditis.