After arriving in Doha last September, Dalilah Muhammad told her coach that the world track and field championships would produce fast times. Even if she wasn’t necessarily thinking of herself.
“I had to just put it out of my mind that I was the world-record holder,” Muhammad said in a recent watchback with NBC Sports track and field commentator Leigh Diffey.
She just wanted to win. Time didn’t matter.
Muhammad eyed a complete set of titles in the 400m hurdles. She won the Olympics in 2016. She became the world-record holder at the USATF Outdoor Championships in July 2019, two weeks after suffering a concussion in a training fall (without hurdles).
All that was lacking: a biennial world championship.
The Khalifa International Stadium track felt fast to Muhammad. The conditions, perfect, thanks to an air conditioning system. Though Muhammad said it was, at least at first, difficult for her body to adjust from the temperatures outside the stadium, eclipsing 100 degrees.
She was third-fastest in the preliminary heats and second-fastest in the semifinals, slower than 20-year-old rival Sydney McLaughlin in both rounds.
Then came the final and arguably the most anticipated head-to-head of the meet. It delivered.
Both women ran faster than the previous 15-year-old world record that Muhammad broke at nationals.
Muhammad clocked 52.16, lowering her record from 52.20. McLaughlin registered 52.23, her dash off the last hurdle not quite enough to reel in Muhammad.
Just like at nationals, Muhammad needed somebody to tell her that she ran the fastest time in history.
“I was just looking to see who won the race, and then I noticed when they said world record that I had broke it,” she said in Doha. “I did not expect to break the world record.”
For the first time since the 1992 Barcelona Games, the U.S. goes into an Olympics without any reigning world champions in the women’s flat sprints. That means added attention on Muhammad and McLaughlin over the next year.
“It’s the rookie and the vet,” McLaughlin, who like Muhammad trains in Southern California but with a different coach, said in Doha. “Constantly being able to race against her and learn and see what it’s like to break world records. There’s not a lot of communication, but there’s a lot of watching.”
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