ALMOST NO ONE saw it coming. Even with a break in the rain, the track still glistened with water. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad, in lane 4 for the final, had edged wunderkind Sydney McLaughlin in the previous day’s heats, 54.22–54.24, yet most eyes were still on world leader McLaughlin, in her last 10 days of being a teenager. In lane 6, McLaughlin stood pensive, serious, knowing that after 7 races as a pro, this would stand out as her first championship test. In between, defending champion Shamier Little had lane 5. Ashley Spencer, the Olympic bronze medalist, drew lane 3, just outside NCAA champ Anna Cockrell.
No one moved faster upon the firing of the gun than Little, who shared with McLaughlin the fastest reaction time (0.198). Muhammad, at 0.287, budged nearly a 10th slower. Little reached hurdle 1 first, followed by Muhammad and then McLaughlin. By the second, Little held a clear lead over Muhammad, with McLaughlin battling Cassandra Tate (lane 7) for 3rd.
Any notions of a Little runaway ended at hurdle 4, when Muhammad caught her. The 3-time champion made up the stagger by the next hurdle and entered the straight with a jaw-dropping 7m lead. Little still held 2nd at hurdle 9 but McLaughlin tagged her a couple strides later, with fast-closing Spencer putting herself in the picture as well. Not only did Muhammad not falter in on the stretch, she also accelerated into the final hurdle and streaked home with stunning power, crossing with a 4m lead, the clock catching her in 52.20, a World Record.
McLaughlin would finish a dazed 2nd in 52.88, the second-fastest time of her young career, with Spencer 3rd in a PR-equaling 53.11. Little, thoroughly spent by her gambit, crossed 4th in 53.91.
At 29, Muhammad now rules the event, and clearly wants to add World gold to the silvers she won in ’13 & ’17. “About the World Record, man, I’m just shocked,” she said. The old mark, 52.34 by Russia’s Yuliya Pechonkina, had stood since ’03. She continued, “I’ve been kind of hitting that time in practice consistently. My coach said ‘There’s no way you can’t do it. You’ve just got to execute that last 40.’ His words, ‘Drop your arms’ hit me that last 40 and I just was trying to hold on… I knew if I just kept my form, I would cross first.”
She revealed that she had backed off on some workouts the last 2 weeks after getting hurt in what she called a “crazy fall” in practice. “It’s one of those things where you’re kind of hoping for the best, and so yesterday, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m ready to run again and I can do it.’ Today the rain, that was another setback in your mind, but I just kind of trusted in what we had been working for up to this point. The World Record’s been on my mind. I knew this field was so strong. I think we all just decided that we needed to chase it just to make the team. That’s been my focus.”
“We knew it was going to happen eventually,” said McLaughlin. “To be able to do that in the rain, it’s amazing.” Said Spencer, the third part of the Rio team reprised, “We’re ready to make some noise in Doha.”
USATF WOMEN’S 400H RESULTS
1. Dalilah Muhammad (Nik) 52.20 WR, AR (old WR 52.34 Yuliya Pechonkina [Russia] ’03; old AR 52.47 Lashinda Demus [Nik] ’11);
2. Sydney McLaughlin (NBal) 52.88 (x, =14 A);
3. Ashley Spencer (Nik) 53.11 =PR (=10, x A);
4. Shamier Little (adi) 53.91;
5. Cassandra Tate (adi) 54.91;
6. Anna Cockrell (USC) 56.14;
7. Kiah Seymour (GlenarTC) 56.24;
8. Deonca Bookman (unat) 57.37.
1. Bookman; 2. Cockrell; 3. Spencer; 4. Muhammad; 5. Little; 6. McLaughlin; 7. Tate; 8. Seymour
Little & McLaughlin 0.198; Spencer 0.202; Cockrell 0.204; Seymour 0.207; Tate 0.224; Bookman 0.270; Muhammad 0.287
(July 27; no semis)
I–1. Little 54.49; 2. Tate 55.45; 3. Spencer 56.25; 4. Bookman 57.10; 5. Kaila Barber (unat) 58.58.
II–1. Muhammad 54.22; 2. McLaughlin 54.24; 3. Seymour 56.28; 4. Cockrell 56.51; 5. Riley Knebes (unat) 60.55; 6. Brianna Frazier (DomTC) 60.80.