Greatest 400m Photo Finish Ever

Every talks about the Allyson Felix, Jeneba Tarmoh 100 meter Photo Finish but to me, the greatest photo finish was taken back in 1960.  (I came up with a suggestion on how to settle tie-breakers in track events.)

Otis Davis started at the University of Oregon as a basketball player, and didn’t take up Track and Field until 1958 at the “late” age of 26.

In 1959, he ran 46.5 for 440 yards and finished third at the USA National Championships (called the AAU at the time).

In 1960, he won the AAU and went on to win the Olympic 400 meters with a new World Record of 44.9 breaking the 45 second barrier (though the electronic time was 45.07).  Carl Kaufmann got the silver and was also awarded the EWR (equal world record) of 44.9 despite running 45.08 FAT.

Here is the famous photo finish of that race.  Note the torso, and not the head,  is used for measurement even if Kaufmann’s nose appears to break the tape first.

Otis Davis - Carl Kaufman 400m Photo-finish 1960 Rome

India’s Milkha Singh barely missed the bronze in 45.6 (45.73 FAT) which is still India’s National Record over 50 years later!  You can see him congratulate Otis by shaking his hand at 0:58 of the video below.  Note in the video how Otis is wearing bib number 400!

The 1960 400 meters was the first time the Semi-Finals and Finals were contested on different days.  Today, it is not uncommon to have a rest day between the SF and Final to promote WR times.

The 4x400m relay was equally as exciting as these same two men ran anchor, but once again the Americans showed their dominance in winning the Gold in 3:02.2.

George Silk had one of the most memorable photographs of Otis Davis and Carl Kaufman in the 4 x 400m relay, which you can buy from LIFE magazine.  A picture is definitely worth 1000 words… or 44.9 seconds…or 3:02 minutes.

Otis Davis - Carl Kaufman 4x400m 1960 Rome

Otis Davis ran one more year in 1961 winning the 440 yard AAU and then retired from the sport at the age of 29 where he later had a successful career in teaching and coaching.  He was appointed the Director of Recreation of the Sports Complex for the U.S. Military in Germany in 1980.

If you want to read more about the 1960 Rome Olympics, then read David Maraniss’ book Rome 1960: The Summer Olympics That Stirred the World.  You can buy it used for a penny!

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • Nice pics. And after this, Speed City started it’s course of universal destruction. :D
    One correction though, the Indian national record has been lowered a little, although it’s still well above 45 seconds, so Mr Singh doesn’t own that anymore. He was a kick-ass athlete though, and just recently a movie on him was released. It would be a worthwhile watch for any track fan (albeit with subtites, because it’s a movie in Hindi.)

  • The 400 m final of the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne involved one of the greatest bronze duels between Hellstén and Ignatyev. Does its photo finish exist or the electrical times?