Dalilah Muhammad, Sydney McLaughlin take 400m hurdles rivalry to world champs final

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Dalilah Muhammad, the Olympic champion and new world-record holder in the 400m hurdles, keeps an eye on her younger countrywoman, Sydney McLaughlin, who makes her global championships final debut on Friday.

“I’ve started kind of from the bottom, and I’ve really worked my way up,” Muhammad said before the world championships in Doha, “and I think Sydney’s kind of been at the top of her game from the very beginning of her career. I can definitely say that’s our stories. Our paths have definitely been different.”

They will intersect at the biggest stage yet on Friday (2:30 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel) in the most anticipated final of the last weekend of the 10-day worlds.

Muhammad and McLaughlin combine for seven of the world’s eight fastest times this year.

Muhammad, 29, broke a 15-year-old world record by winning the USATF Outdoor Championships in 52.20 seconds on July 28. But Muhammad hasn’t broken 53.5 in any of her other races this year, while McLaughlin has done it three times.

McLaughlin, 20 and the world junior record holder, also beat Muhammad in their two other head-to-heads this season on the Diamond League circuit.

Muhammad said shortly after lowering the world record that she didn’t think it would last long at 52.20 (which she ran two weeks after suffering a mild concussion in a training fall). What’s not clear is whether Muhammad will go even faster, or if McLaughlin is capable of it.

“The field is so deep,” Muhammad said, “and I don’t think I’m even at my best with 52.20.”

Muhammad’s world record, and her career, were testaments to perseverance. She ran unsponsored after being eliminated in the 2012 Olympic trials first round and finishing her USC career. Her parents helped support her — mom Nadirah, a child protection specialist in New York City and dad Askia, a Muslim Chaplain for the New York City Department of Correction and an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies at the New York Theological Seminary.

Then in 2013, Muhammad earned the U.S. title, a world silver medal and a Nike contract. After a quad injury and coaching change, she again rebounded, this time to become an Olympic champion in Rio.

“The gold was so far from my mind; that definitely wasn’t the goal going into 2016,” she said. “I just wanted to make it as a 400m hurdler.”

There’s never been doubt about McLaughlin. In 2016, she became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, eliminated in the semifinals at age 17.

She turned pro after her freshman season at Kentucky, signing with Beverly Hills-based WME talent agency, a sign that she wanted to become a star that crosses over beyond track. She’s been impressive enough on the oval.

In 2016, McLaughlin broke 55 seconds for the first time. In 2017, she cracked 54. Last year, she went down to 52.75. She’s still looking for a personal best this season. She may need one on Friday, after posting the fastest times in the first round and the semifinals.

“This season was really great, the way that it progressed,” McLaughlin said. “It wasn’t too up and down. It was really steady. I think it worked, perfect timing for the finals.”

TRACK WORLDS: Results | TV Schedule

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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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