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Dalilah Muhammad breaks 400m hurdles world record after ‘freak’ concussion

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DES MOINES — Dalilah Muhammad came back from a mild concussion to break the 16-year-old world record in the 400m hurdles at the USATF Outdoor Championships on Sunday night. She has a knack for overcoming obstacles — beyond just the 10 barriers on the track — and surprising herself.

“I’m still in shock,” Muhammad said after clocking 52.20 seconds on a wet track, similar to the conditions for her Rio Olympic title.

Muhammad, who took .14 off Yuliya Pechonkina‘s mark from 2003, said she was “kind of shut down” after falling in training two weeks ago. She lost focus while running — without hurdles — and took a “freak” fall, scraping skin.

“Nothing major,” the Queens, N.Y., native said. “Yesterday was like, OK, I’m ready to run again.”

Muhammad moved after hurdle six in Sunday’s final, surging past 2015 World silver medalist Shamier Little to her outside coming around the last curve. (This field was one of the deepest of the four-day meet with four Olympic or world medalists, plus Sydney McLaughlin, the fastest woman in the world in 2018 and, until Sunday, 2019.)

As Muhammad strained for home, she heard the voice of coach Lawrence Johnson in her head, saying, you’ve got to execute that last 40 meters. Drop your arms.

“I was just trying to hold on,” she said.

The celebration didn’t match the enormity of the moment. Muhammad saw her time, clapped her hands and leaned over momentarily before accepting a hug from McLaughlin, who finished second in 52.88 to make her first world team.

“I’ve been kind of hitting that time in practice consistently,” said Muhammad, whose previous personal best was 52.64 from 2017. “I was hoping for it this whole weekend.”

In 2012, Muhammad finished fifth at her last NCAA Championships for USC. Twenty days later, she was sixth in her first-round heat at the Olympic trials, a full six seconds slower than what she ran at Drake Stadium on Sunday.

She stayed in the sport, unsponsored, and in Los Angeles, financially supported by her parents. Her mom, Nadirah, worked as a child protection specialist in New York City. Father Askia served as a Muslim Chaplain for the New York City Department of Correction and an adjunct professor of Islamic Studies at the New York Theological Seminary.

Something clicked under those circumstances in 2013. Muhammad lowered her best time from 56.04 to 53.83 to win the U.S. title. Then she earned world silver, picking up a Nike sponsorship along with it.

But 2014, 2015 and even early 2016 brought more hurdles — a quad injury, “personal problems,” and, four months before the Olympic trials, reportedly changing coaches from Yolanda Demus (mother of now-former American record holder Lashinda Demus) to Johnson, who also coached Olympic 100m hurdles champion Brianna McNeal.

It worked. Muhammad clocked a personal-best 52.88 to win trials. She went to the Olympics owning the fastest time in the world for the year by 1.08 seconds over her next-closest competitor in Rio. She lived up to overwhelming favorite status, taking gold by a comfortable .42.

“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.”

Muhammad went even faster to win the 2017 U.S. title — 52.64 — but then hurt her hamstring and finished second to countrywoman Kori Carter at worlds in 53.50.

In 2018, McLaughlin ran 52.75 and turned professional after one season at Kentucky. At 18, McLaughlin said she had designs on the world record, and many believed it was coming.

“Maybe the biggest prodigy in the history of the sport,” NBC Sports analyst Ato Boldon said on Sunday’s broadcast of McLaughlin, who made the Rio team at 16 and was eliminated in the Olympic semifinals as the youngest U.S. track and field competitor since 1972.

McLaughlin has 386,000 Instagram followers. Muhammad eclipsed 26,000 on Sunday night.

“I felt like the underdog in the race,” said Muhammad, who was beaten by McLaughlin in Oslo last month, their first head-to-head in two years. “I think people always kind of root for the underdog.”

USATF OUTDOORS: Full Results

In other events Sunday, Noah Lyles made his first world championships team by winning the 200m in 19.78 seconds. He topped U.S. 100m champion Christian Coleman, who was second in 20.02 to set up a 100m-200m double in Doha. More on Lyles-Coleman here.

Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz was upset by mulletted Craig Engels, but Centrowitz still finished second to make his seventh straight Olympic or world team.

Favorites Daniel Roberts, Grant Holloway and Devon Allen went one-two-three in the 110m hurdles to make up that world team. Holloway beat Roberts at the NCAA Championships in 12.98 seconds, fastest in the world this year, then dived across the finish line Sunday to secure his first world spot. Roberts won in 13.23.

Dezerea Bryant won the women’s 200m in 22.47 seconds, while U.S. 100m champion Teahna Daniels missed the world team in this event .02, taking fourth.

Emma Coburn earned her eighth steeplechase title in nine years, even though she did not need to race here because she as a bye into Doha as defending world champion. Coburn is joined on the world team by Courtney Frerichs, who took second, just as she did at 2017 Worlds.

Coburn ranks third in the world this year behind Kenyans Beatrice Chepkoech (world-record holder) and Norah Jeruto.

Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy fought traffic in the last 200 meters to go from fourth to second behind Donavan Brazier and qualify for worlds. Brazier, 22, ranks fifth in the world this year after being eliminated in the semifinals in his world champs debut in 2017.

Ajeé Wilson earned her third straight U.S. 800m title, clocking 1:57.72. She’s a medal favorite at worlds given the absence of Olympic silver and bronze medalists Francine Niyonasaba and Margaret Wambui due to the IAAF’s new testosterone-capping rule. However, two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya is for the moment eligible while appealing.

Athing Mu, 17, finished fifth in a personal-best 2:01.17.

Lopez Lomong, who won the 10,000m on Thursday, doubled up in the 5000m, but he can’t compete at worlds in the latter because he doesn’t have a fast enough qualifying time. Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo, who lost a final sprint to the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearer Lomong by .27, leads the team.

Shelby Houlihan completed her second straight 1500m-5000m double at nationals by kicking to win the longer distance. Houlihan, 11th in Rio in the 5000m, is not expected to race that event at worlds as she focuses on the 1500m, where has become one of the world’s best in the last two years.

In the pole vault, Jenn Suhr, the 2012 Olympic champ ranked No. 1 in the world this year, and Sandi Morris, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist ranked No. 2 in the world this year, both qualified for worlds.

Olympic long jump champion Jeff Henderson appears to have made the world team despite placing fifth because national champion Ja’Mari Ward and fourth-place Jarvis Gotch don’t have a far enough qualifying jump for worlds.

Olympic shot put champion Michelle Carter was beaten by Chase Ealey, who ranks second in the world this year, but both are going to worlds.

Erica Bougard overcame Kendell Williams‘ 66-point lead in the heptathlon in the last event, the 800m, to repeat as national champion.

Bougard’s total, 6,663, ranks third in the world this year behind Olympic champion Nafi Thiam of Belgium and Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson. The last American to earn a world heptathlon medal was Shelia Burrell in 2001 (bronze).

Jeron Robinson repeated as high jump champion, clearing 2.30 meters to move to joint seventh in the world this year.

The track and field season continues with a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Aug. 18.

MORE: Olympic 1500m medalist retires

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Allyson Felix, admittedly far from her best, advances in first race as a mom

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Allyson Felix, at a professed far from her best, finished fourth in her 400m first-round heat at the USATF Outdoor Championships, her first race in more than one year and since having daughter Camryn via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on Nov. 28.

Felix, the most decorated female Olympic track and field athlete with nine medals and six golds, clocked 52.20 seconds. She reached Friday’s semifinals with the 11th-fastest time of 16 qualifiers. Her personal best is 49.26 from 2015.

“It felt rusty. Kind of to be expected,” Felix, who ran unsponsored but in Nike shoes, told media in Des Moines. “It’s not quite up to my standards.

“Even though it wasn’t a great result for me, it’s a starting point. My biggest goal is next year. I know that I’m capable. Now I have time on my side. I can get where I need to go.”

USATF OUTDOORS: TV Schedule | Full Results

Before the race, Felix posted on Instagram that making it to the start line was “a huge victory.”

“Almost 8 months ago this was my entire world. staying in the NICU all day & night watching my baby girl fight,” she wrote. “I can still hear the beeping and alarms of the machines. the uncertainty. The fear. There were a lot of days i wasn’t sure this was going to be possible. I worked harder than i even knew i could. there were tears, frustration and doubt. At times it felt like everything was against me.”

Felix must likely finish in the top six in Saturday’s 400m final, should she advance from Friday’s semifinals, to make her ninth straight world championships team. That should get her on the 4x400m relay. A top-three finish is required to make the individual 400m at worlds in Doha in two months.

Later Thursday, Molly Huddle captured her fifth straight 10,000m national title by holding off training partner Emily Sisson. In the men’s 10,000m, 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony flag bearer Lopez Lomong won by more than 17 seconds.

Others winners included Sam Mattis (discus), Ariana Ince (javelin) — edging American record-holder Kara Winger — and Keturah Orji, who captured her fourth straight triple jump crown.

Earlier Thursday, the favorites advanced in the men’s and women’s 100m, which have semifinals and finals Friday. That includes Christian Coleman, the world’s fastest man this Olympic cycle, Justin Gatlin, who has a bye into worlds as defending champion and defending U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs.

Same went for the women’s 800m (Ajee WilsonRaevyn Rogers) and 1500m (Jenny SimpsonShelby Houlihan) and men’s 400m hurdles (Rai BenjaminKerron Clement) and 800m (Donovan BrazierClayton Murphy).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoors

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today i’ll step on the starting line for the first time in over a year. it might sound cliche, but making it there for me is a huge victory • almost 8 months ago this was my entire world. staying in the NICU all day & night watching my baby girl fight. i can still hear the beeping and alarms of the machines. the uncertainty. the fear • there were a lot of days i wasn’t sure this was going to be possible. i worked harder than i even knew i could. there were tears, frustration and doubt. at times it felt like everything was against me • so today i’m far from my best, but i’m grateful for this opportunity and to experience the joy of competing again • more than anything i thank God we are healthy.

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Molly Huddle wins 10,000m at USATF Outdoors for 27th national title

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Molly Huddle may now be a marathoner, but she’s still the class of the U.S. 10,000m field.

Huddle, the American record holder and two-time Olympian, won the national title in the 25-lap race for the fourth straight time, clocking 31 minutes, 52.32 seconds in Des Moines on Thursday night. Huddle owns 27 national titles between track and road races.

Lopez Lomong, the 2008 U.S. Olympic flag bearer who was among the Lost Boys of Sudan, surged past Shadrack Kipchirchir to win the 10,000m by 1.29 seconds in 28:58.38. Lomong, who ran the 1500m and 5000m at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, was racing the 10,000m for the second time in his career. The field lacked eight-time U.S. champion Galen Rupp for the first time since 2006. Rupp is now focused on the marathon.

For Huddle, it was a much more pleasant experience than on April 16, when she finished 16th with hypothermia in the most dreadful Boston Marathon weather in at least 30 years. Huddle was to undergo a root canal the following day, then finished third at a 10K in Central Park on June 9.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d be fit enough yet, but I’m glad that when I needed to pick it up, I could,” Huddle told media in Des Moines.

So Huddle entered the U.S. Championships having been beaten by countrywomen in her last two races. Before Boston, Huddle had been the top American in all of her road races the previous five years.

The 33-year-old led after every lap on Thursday and pulled away from Olympic teammate Marielle Hall at the bell, winning by 4.36 seconds. Gwen Jorgensen, the Rio Olympic triathlon champion transitioning to the marathon, finished seventh, 31.77 seconds behind.

“The goal is always to come in and try to win, and I don’t think I was in it for the win,” said Jorgensen, who gave birth to a son, Stanley, on Aug. 17. “I didn’t think I’d be running any track races.”

Huddle would normally be a contender for her first major international medal, but this is the only year in the Olympic cycle without a world championships or Olympics. Huddle plans to race marathons in the fall, next spring and at the 2020 Olympics, but wants to run the 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Also Thursday, the female headliner of the meet, Sydney McLaughlin, withdrew before the first round of the 400m after feeling tightness in her quad in warm-up.

McLaughlin, who at 16 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, just turned professional after her freshman season at the University of Kentucky. She ranks No. 1 in the world this year in the 400m hurdles and No. 5 in the 400m.

All of the favorites advanced out of the 100m first round, including 200m world leader Noah Lyles, two-time Olympian Mike Rodgers (in 9.89 seconds, fastest time in the world this year) and Pre Classic winner Ronnie Baker. World gold and silver medalists Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman are sitting out nationals.

The men’s and women’s 100m semifinals and finals are Friday. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA has live coverage from 6-9 p.m. ET.

Defending 1500m champion Robby Andrews failed to qualify for Saturday’s final.

Keturah Orji and Tori Franklin traded meet records in the triple jump final, with Orji prevailing with a 14.59-meter leap to Franklin’s 14.52. Franklin holds the American record of 14.84 meters with Orji ranking No. 2 all-time.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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