Sydney McLaughlin broke this world record. Dalilah Muhammad broke it, too.
Only one of the top hurdlers in the world could win the Olympic gold — McLaughlin won the latest installment in the greatest rivalry in track.
New Jersey’s 21-year old won Wednesday’s 400-meter hurdles title. She finished in 51.46 seconds, making it yet another historic day on the Olympic oval.
McLaughlin described the latest in her series with Muhammad as “iron sharpening iron”, and each one was faster than the previous. “Every time we step onto the track, it is always something fast.”
McLaughlin was second after the final hurdle and finished ahead of the Olympic champion. McLaughlin’s previous record of 51.9 was also broken by Muhammad’s 51.58 time. It was not enough to win the silver in this race.
McLaughlin was not too happy about it, partly because she had to traverse 400m while crossing 10 hurdles at 17 mph, which is much more exhausting than it looks.
She said that there was some lactic acid buildup.
After settling down on the ground, she took a look at the scoreboard and, yes, it was a record… again. Then, she got up and marched toward the hand-sanitizing station. Muhammad came over to give her a hug and congratulated her. They will meet again. Next July will be the World Championships.
Muhammad stated, “No mixed emotions.” There are always things that you would like to do better. You can use this as a jumping off point for the next. This is not the end of my race.
This record, as impressive and remarkable as McLaughlin’s race may have been, didn’t surprise anyone.
McLaughlin, a New York City native, and Muhammad, a Southern Cal graduate, have traded the record and the wins for the past two years. Muhammad broke the record at U.S. Nationals, Des Moines, Iowa in 2019. He then lowered it at the world championships, Qatar in 52.16.
McLaughlin ran 51.9 in Olympic trials to break that record and become the first woman under 52 seconds.
It was inevitable that the mark would drop again in Tokyo’s perfect running conditions.
Only a day earlier, Norway’s Karsten Warholm crushed his old world record in the men’s 400 hurdles, finishing in 45.94. Rai Benjamin, the runner-up, finished in 46.17 to beat the old record. Six runners set new national, continental and world records in the race.
The M&M duo had a lot of work to do, and their race was eagerly awaited. They outperformed all expectations and left no one behind in the race.
Femke Bol, a bronze medalist from the Netherlands, said that she went out “crazy” for the 300 first people to join her. This European record was set by Femke Bol who also had a 52.03 time which would have been a world record. “And I even died a little.”
Muhammad, starting in Lane 7, quickly made up the lost time and got back on track. They cruised down the backstretch.
McLaughlin and Muhammad drew even slowly, steadily. They were almost at a draw as they reached the 100-meter mark. McLaughlin overtook Muhammad and began to move forward.
Although the margin of.12 seconds was not very close, it was closer than in Doha where McLaughlin lost by 0.07 in a race that changed McLaughlin’s thinking.
McLaughlin’s performance in the world championship race was a testament to her ability, but it also gave her a tangible reality. Muhammad, now 31, was a late bloomer and didn’t have a sponsor nor a spot at 2012 London Olympics.
McLaughlin changed coaches, joining Bobby Kersee, whose expertise has helped produce what could be a wing of a track and field Hall of Fame: Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith Joyner, Allyson Felix.
McLaughlin stated that Kersee is now in his 11th Olympics. He knew exactly what it would take to get me here.
Kersee asked McLaughlin to run shorter distances, jump off his opposite foot, run indoors less, and get used to new situations. They also focused on staying focused.
She didn’t seem to be bothered by Tokyo’s quarantine rules or the 4 a.m. wake-up time for the first round, nor the torrential rainstorm that struck during the semifinals.
The expectations of the Olympics and the race did not work out. Other Olympians have been affected by this spotlight. McLaughlin, along with Kersee, credited her faith for helping to ease the pressure and keep her focus on the race.
She said, “I believe it’s a burden you place on yourself that doesn’t exist.” It’s the fear that something hasn’t yet happened in your mind, but you think it has. It’s a matter of ensuring that your thoughts are positive.
The gold medal she received was proof of her determination.
This is also the latest chapter in a long and difficult journey she has been on since her 2016 international debut. She was 16, one of the freshest faces in sports, and she came to Olympic trials with stories of how she could juggle, and ride a unicycle, and do both at the same time.
In one of the most competitive events on the program, Muhammad won a gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. She was selected for the U.S. Olympic team. McLaughlin was eliminated in the semifinal round. It was a great learning experience.
She was born at a time when another female was redefining hurdles.
The world record stood at 52.34 over 16 years before Muhammad broke it.
“I told Dalilah that it was a little soft. Boogie Johnson, her coach, said that she believes they can go faster. “She says, “You think so?” I reply, “Yeah, if you do this, that and this.”
The 400-meter hurdles was once an undercard in the track and field schedule. It is now one the most popular races at the Olympics.
McLaughlin took the title.
Muhammad is back at the drawing board
McLaughlin stated, “It’s two athletes trying to be their best,” and “knowing there’s another great woman who’s going help you get there.”