This modern event first appeared in England around 1830 as a variation of the 100 yards using heavy wooden barriers. In 1864, Oxford and Cambridge turned it into a 120 yards (109.72m) race with 10 obstacles three feet six inches (1.06m) high, ten yards (9.14m) apart, with the first and last obstacles 15 yards from the start and finish respectively. In 1888, the French added 28 cm to the distance, to make it the 110m hurdles. It has remained an Olympic classic (in 1896 it was run with only nine hurdles).
Early hurdling technique was very rudimentary with athletes making 'bundled' jumps by tucking their legs under their bodies. In 1895, the fixed hurdles were replaced with lighter structures with an inverted T-shaped base, allowing them to be knocked over forwards. Athletes were disqualified if they knocked over more than three hurdles and records were disallowed if one hurdle was knocked over. This rule was retained until 1935.
The first great hurdler was Alvin Kraenzlein (USA), who created a new technique by striding over the hurdles and taking three steps between barriers. This style was further refined in 1920 by the Canadian Earl Thomson who became the first hurdler under 15 seconds.
The L-shaped hurdle was introduced in 1935, using an eight pound (3.63 kg) counterbalance which allowed the hurdle to fall over with pressure so eliminating the risk of injury. The introduction of synthetic tracks in the late 1960s has helped hurdlers rebound faster off the track.
The first women's hurdles races took place in 1926 over a distance of 80 metres. The hurdles were 76cm high. This event gained Olympic status in 1932 with the first IAAF world record dating back to 1934. The 100m distance with 84cm high hurdles was adopted by the IAAF in 1969 and made its appearance on the Olympic stage in 1972.