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 event 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 2012, Alvin Kraenzlein stays as the only track-and-field athlete, who won four individual titles at one Olympics.
(Jesse Owens won three individual gold medals and one as part of relay team in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin). 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–Madison 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.
In 1898, after being recruited by Mike Murphy, the University of Pennsylvania track-and-field coach, he moved to Philadelphia, where he studied at the Dental School and graduated in 1900.
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.
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 1910–1913 he was the head track-and-field and football coach (in 1910–1911) at the University of Michigan.
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 WWI 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.
In late 1927, he became afflicted with bouts of pleurisy. Alvin Kraenzlein died early 1928 of endocarditis in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.