Women's 400m hurdles heats at the World Championships Doha 2019 (AFP / Getty Images)

400 Metres Hurdles

How it works

Demanding speed, strength, agility and precision, the 400m hurdles is historically regarded as one of track and field’s most demanding events.

Athletes run in lanes from staggered positions and start from blocks. They then complete one full 400m lap, clearing 10 evenly-spaced hurdles. A reaction time – measured by sensors on the blocks – of less than 0.100 is deemed a false start and all the runners are recalled. Any athlete responsible for a false start is disqualified immediately. An athlete can also be disqualified if he or she steps or runs outside their designated lane.

Men clear hurdles that are 36in (91.4cm) high, while women negotiate 30in (76.2cm) barriers. The hurdles are knocked down easily if touched, which allows the athlete to continue even if he or she collides with them. The race order is determined on time. At major championships, the format of the 400m hurdles is typically heats, semifinals and final.


The first 440-yard hurdles race was staged in Oxford, England, circa 1860. Competitors had to tackle 12 huge (100cm) wooden barriers that were sunk into the ground.

The 400m hurdles became a standard discipline for men at the 1900 Olympics. Some 84 years later, women contested the event at the Games for the first time with Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco winning the inaugural women’s Olympic title in Los Angeles. In so doing, she became the first female Olympic champion as well as the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal from an Islamic nation.

The US has been the pre-eminent nation in men’s Olympic 400m hurdles history. Glenn Davis, Edwin Moses and Angelo Taylor have all taken the title twice from the US. The only double Olympic men’s 400m hurdles champion from outside the US is Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic, who triumphed in 2004 and 2012.

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