A misprint in the 1896 Official Report has led some to believe that the distance was 100 metres. But there is little doubt that the race was contested over the standard distance of 110 metres. There was no real favorite, as the two top hurdlers in the world, Stephen Chase (USA) and Godfrey Shaw (GBR), elected not to make the trip. The Greeks felt their champion, Anastasios Andreou of Cyprus, was unbeatable. The British hurdler, Grantley Goulding, paraded around Athens wearing his medals on his coat, causing his American rival, Tom Curtis, to remark, “I never met a more confident athlete.”
Though four heats were scheduled, only two were contested, and they were held on 7 April. Goulding won the first heat easily in 18.4 over France’s Frantz Reichel, Hungary’s Alajos Szokoly, and Andreou. There was some controversy over the finish of Reichel and Szokoly, and who would be advanced to the final, but eventually Reichel was chosen by the jury. Curtis won the second heat in 18.0 over his teammate Bill Hoyt, Greece’s Athanasios Skaltsogiannis, and Germany’s Kurt Doerry.
Reichel and Hoyt, though qualified, elected not to contest the final on 10 April, and Szokoly, despite the controversy of heat one, was not chosen for the final, leaving only Goulding and Curtis to race for the championship. Hoyt most likely withdrew to concentrate on the pole vault. Reichel did not start because he was seconding Lermusiaux in the marathon race, held concurrently with the hurdle final. Goulding was noted to be a better technical hurdler but Curtis was much the faster runner. Goulding led at the last hurdle but lost on the run-in by centimetres, with Curtis timed in 17 3/5 seconds.