JUST 24 HOURS AFTER Karsten Warholm flew to a World Record in the men’s 400 hurdles after a thrilling duel with Rai Benjamin, it was the turn of Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad to do battle over the barriers.
And the result? A mind-boggling 51.46 WR for the 21-year-old McLaughlin.
All credit as well to Muhammad, who finished 2nd in 51.58, well inside McLaughlin’s previous WR of 51.90 from the OT.
In total, since Muhammad first broke the WR when running 52.20 at the ’19 USATF Champs, the pair have brought down the absolute standard for the event in four increments, and by almost a second, in little more than two years (see chart).
McLaughlin was drawn in lane 4 so had the advantage of having the Dutch phenom Femke Bol — who is actually 6½ months younger than McLaughlin and, like the U.S. pair had breezed through her heat and semi in Tokyo, winning both races with relative ease — and Muhammad in her sights in lanes 5 and 7 to her outside.
However, it was Muhammad — almost a decade older than McLaughlin at 31 — who tore away from the gun and had already made up the stagger on third U.S. runner Anna Cockrell, in lane 8, by the second hurdle.
Muhammad continued to make the pace over the first half of the race, with McLaughlin and Bol clearing the hurdles in unison just a fraction behind her, touching down after hurdle 5 in a super-quick 22.3.
Coming into the homestraight, that was still the scenario over the eighth barrier with Muhammad touching down a stride in front of the chasing pair, but Bol started to lose touch with McLaughlin as the latter changed gear between hurdles 8 and 9.
Just the slightest of stutters before the last hurdle seemed to affect Muhammad’s momentum. She was still in front off the final barrier but it was McLaughlin who was the stronger on the run in to succeed her teammate as the Olympic champ just 3 days short of her 22nd birthday.
Back in ’16, as a 17-year-old who made the Rio semis, McLaughlin looked on in awe at Muhammad’s having the gold medal hung around her neck but this time around it was the New Jersey native who occupied the top step of the podium.
Into the bargain, McLaughlin consigned the old OR of 52.64, which had belonged to Jamaica’s Melaine Walker since Beijing ’08, to history.
Behind the two Americans, Bol took bronze in a European Record 52.03, which was still faster than Muhammad’s former WR of 52.16 when she won the ’19 WC title in Doha and that had stood until this June.
“I saw Dalilah ahead of me with one to go,” said McLaughlin. “I just thought, ‘Run your race.’ The race doesn’t really start till hurdle 7. I just wanted to go out there and give it everything I had.”
However, there were little in the way of the celebrations that have been so typical of other gold medal winners — think the delirium and shirt-ripping of Warholm — after McLaughlin crossed the line.
She seemed to be somewhat dumbstruck by the magnitude of her own achievement and barely managed a smile.
“It’s just the flood of emotions that you don’t know how to process,” she told reporters a little later, still seeming remarkably impassive. “I was just really grateful to finish this race, to be here on this stage and have the opportunity. Yeah, too many emotions that you have no emotions. But I can’t really get it straight in my head yet. I’m sure I’ll process it and celebrate later, once I have a nap and some food.”
McLaughlin also took the opportunity to praise her coach Bobby Kersee, having switched to train with the legendary mentor at the end of last year after spending a couple of years under the guidance of ’04 OG 100H gold medalist Joanna Hayes.
“It’s just about trusting your training, trusting your coach, and that will get you all the way round the track,” she added.
Kersee’s main contribution in the barely eight months they have spent together has been to improve McLaughlin’s hurdling technique. Consequently, he asked her to run a series of 100H races during April and May this year, contesting the event for the first time since she was a 14-year-old in 2014, and she brought her PR down to 12.65.
Muhammad was gracious in defeat, saying, “I’m truly proud of 2nd place. Yes, to come home with 2nd after breaking a World Record, it could be mixed emotions. But right now, I truly don’t feel that way. I’m truly proud of it. I’m truly happy with the performance we both put on, and kudos to Sydney.”
She reflected on the fact that being drawn in an outer lane dictated a quick start, knowing that her training times had indicated she was capable of going even faster than the epic OG Trials race in Eugene a month ago.
“I told my coach [Lawrence Johnson] I was capable of running 51.7 [but being drawn in lane 7], that was one of the few cards I could play,” she added.
The leading trio also pulled the rest of the field to great times: Jamaica’s Janieve Russell came home behind the medalists in 53.08, the fastest-ever 4th-placer, while the Ukraine pair of Anna Ryzhykova and Viktoriya Tkachuk finished 5th and 6th in 53.48 and 53.79, the first time 6 women have gone sub-54 in a race.
Cockrell crossed the line 7th at 54.19 but the NCAA champ was later DQed for running out of her lane after having run the second-fastest time of her career, 54.17, in her semi.
An anecdotal note, especially for Kentucky Wildcats fans: both the Tokyo women’s hurdles winners — McLaughlin and 100H gold medalist Jasmine Camacho-Quinn — were teammates at Kentucky in ’18 and won NCAA titles that year in the events in which they were to mint OG gold.
WOMEN’S 400H RESULTS
(August 04) (temperature 90F/32C; humidity 67%)
1. Sydney McLaughlin (US) 51.46 WR, AR (old records 51.90 McLaughlin ’21);
2. Dalilah Muhammad (US) 51.58 PR (2, 2 W, A);
3. Femke Bol (Neth) 52.03 NR (3, 4 W);
4. Janieve Russell (Jam) 53.08 PR;
5. Anna Ryzhykova (Ukr) 53.48;
6. Viktoriya Tkachuk (Ukr) 53.79 PR;
7. Gianna Woodruff (Pan) 55.84;
… lane dq—Anna Cockrell (US) [54.19].
(best-ever mark-for-place: 1–4, 6)
(lanes: 2. Ryzhykova; 3. Tkachuk; 4. McLaughlin; 5. Bol; 6. Russell; 7. Muhammad; 8. Cockrell; 9. Woodruff)
HEATS (July 31)
I–1. Tkachuk 54.80; 2. Melissa Gonzalez (Col) 55.32 NR; 3. Cockrell 55.37; 4. Sage Watson (Can) 55.54; 5. Yadisleidy Pedroso (Ita) 55.57; 6. Amalie Hammild Iuel (Nor) 55.65; 7. Aminat Yusuf Jamal Odeyemi (Bhr) 55.90; 8. Hanne Claes (Bel) 56.38.
II–1. Ryzhykova 54.56; 2. Russell 54.81; 3. Paulien Couckuyt (Bel) 54.90 NR; 4. Linda Olivieri (Ita) 55.54 =PR; 5. Viivi Lehikoinen (Fin) 55.67; 6. Noelle Montcalm (Can) 55.85; 7. Meghan Beesley (GB) 55.91; 8. Chayenne da Silva (Bra) 57.55.
III–1. McLaughlin 54.65; 2. Woodruff 55.49; 3. Sara Slott Petersen (Den) 55.52; 4. Thi Lan Quach (Vie) 55.71; 5. Eleonora Marchiando (Ita) 56.82; 6. Mariya Mykolenko (Ukr) 57.86;… dnf—Jessie Knight (GB);… dq—Leah Nugent (Jam).
IV–1. Bol 54.43; 2. Tia Adana Belle (Bar) 55.69; 3. Wenda Nel (SA) 56.06; 4. Jessica Turner (GB) 56.83; 5. Sarah Carli (Aus) 56.93; 6. Yasmin Giger (Swi) 57.03;… dq—Rhonda Whyte (Jam).
V–1. Muhammad 53.97; 2. Carolina Krafzik (Ger) 54.72 PR; 3. Léa Sprunger (Swi) 54.74; 4. Joanna Linkiewicz (Pol) 54.93 PR; 5. Zurian Hechavarría (Cub) 54.99 PR; 6. Emma Zapletalová (Svk) 55.00; 7. Line Kloster (Nor) 56.45; 8. Loubna Benhadja (Alg) 57.19 PR.
SEMIS (August 02)
I–1. Muhammad 53.30; 2. Russell 54.10; 3. Couckuyt 54.47 NR; 4. Krafzik 54.96; 5. Watson 55.51; 6. Quach 56.78; 7. Olivieri 57.03; 8. Iuel 57.61.
II–1. McLaughlin 53.03; 2. Woodruff 54.22 NR; 3. Ryzhykova 54.23; 4. Hechavarría 55.21; 5. Linkiewicz 55.67; 6. Zapletalová 55.79; 7. Nel 56.35; 8. Belle 59.26.
III–1. Bol 53.91; 2. Cockrell 54.17; 3. Tkachuk 54.25; 4. Sprunger 55.12; 5. Pedroso 55.80; 6. Gonzalez 57.47; 7. Turner 1:00.36;… dq—Petersen. ◻︎