The Mercury News
Sydney McLaughlin shatters world record to claim gold in the 400-meter hurdles.
TOKYO >> The greatest race in Olympic women’s track and field history was epic from the first step.
Dalilah Muhammad of the U.S., the reigning Olympic and World champion, blasted out of the starting blocks, charging around the turn. Midway down the backstretch, Muhammad, running in lane 7, had already opened up a seemingly insurmountable gap, running well below world record pace.
Behind her, running in lane 4, Team USA’s Sydney McLaughlin, the world record-holder, remained patient.
“The race doesn’t really start till hurdle seven,” she said.
McLaughlin, 21, began to cut into the gap around the final turn but Muhammad, 31, continued to hold
on into the homestretch, over the eight hurdle, then then ninth. She stuttered into the 10th and final hurdle but still led McLaughlin now less than a step behind as the race headed toward the world record shattering, cliff hanger ending the sport had spent the last two years expecting.
“I saw Dalilah ahead of me with one to go,” McLaughlin said “I just thought, ‘Run your race.’”
It wasn’t until the final 10 meters that McLaughlin’s momentum carried her past Muhammad to claim the gold medal in 51.46 seconds, a new world record, and a 400 hurdles final that left the world–and even its participants– in stunned disbelief.
”I can’t really (get) it straight in my head yet,” McLaughlin said. “I’m sure I’ll process it and celebrate later.”
It was a blockbuster that will be celebrated for decades, a late morning that was a near mirror image of the men’s final less than 24 hours earlier where Norway’s Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin of the U.S. were both under the world record. Muhammad, leading over all then hurdles, also dipped under the old world record, claiming the silver in 51.58. The Netherlands’ Femke Bol took the bronze in a European record 52.03, just off the previous world record of 51.90 set by McLaughlin in winning the Olympic Trials in June, and well under the previous Olympic record of 52.64 set by Jamaica’s Melaine
Walker in 2008.
USC’s Anna Cockrell, the NCAA champion, was disqualified.
“This year we have fantastic results in the 400m hurdles, for women as well as men,” said Viktoriya Tkachuk of Ukraine, the sixth place finisher. “I don’t understand how this is all happening, honestly. “It’s history.”
A historic moment The sport had obsessed about a McLaughlin-Muhammad showdown in Tokyo almost as soon as the pair crossed the finish line at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, when Muhammad ran a world record 52.16 to hold off McLaughlin by just seven-hundreths of a second.
In reality, Wednesday’s epic had been building since the 2016 Olympic Trials when both runners made Team USA, McLaughlin then a 17-yearold New Jersey high school junior.
Muhammad claimed gold later that summer in Rio de Janiero while McLaughlin was eliminated in the semifinals.
“It’s been a growing experience – 2016 wasn’t everything
I wanted it to be, so just being able to put the pieces together, I am really grateful,” McLaughlin said. “I made the mistake in 2016 of letting the atmosphere get to me (she didn’t make the final). But this time I stayed in my bubble and did the same things I had been doing before.”
McLaughlin would go on to win the NCAA title at Kentucky as a freshman and then turn pro, signing with New Balance, and relocating to Los Angeles, eventually training with Bobby Kersee, who has guided the gold medal careers of Allyson Felix, Joanna Hayes, Gail Devers and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
“This is his 11th Olympics he’s coaching, he has been around the block a few times and knew what it was going to take to get me to this point,” McLaughlin said. “He just changed my perspective on how I approach the race, so yeah, I owe it all to him.
“I knew he saw something different in me than a lot of people did. He knew how to get me there.
“His numbers don’t lie, so when he says you can do something, you can do it.”