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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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U.S. Olympic medalists eye responses in Rabat; stream schedule, preview

Clayton Murphy, Jenny Simpson
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Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy just watched a countryman notch his first Diamond League win. Olympic 1500m bronze medalist Jenny Simpson just saw her longtime rival clock her fastest time since 2015.

Murphy and Simpson get chances to answer at a Diamond League stop in Rabat, Morocco, on Sunday (live at 1 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold).

In Rio, Murphy became the first U.S. Olympic 800m medalist in 24 years. At 21, he looked like the American face of the event for years to come. But Donavan Brazier, who is two years younger, won the 2017 U.S. title in Murphy’s absence, then broke the U.S. indoor record on Feb. 9.

Last week in Rome, Brazier did something Murphy has yet to accomplish, winning a Diamond League race. Murphy was fourth, falling to 0-3 in his career against Brazier, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Rabat provides a chance for Murphy ahead of next month’s USATF Outdoor Championships, where the top three per event are in line to make the team for the fall world championships. Brazier is not in the Rabat field, but the only two men to run faster than Murphy in 2018 are — Kenyan Emmanuel Korir and Botswana’s Nijel Amos.

The women’s 1500m is another marquee event in Rabat with Simpson facing world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia.

Only once has Simpson won a race that involved Dibaba, and that was five years ago. The 32-year-old American was fourth in Rome last week, 4.9 seconds behind Dibaba, who clocked her fastest time since her world-record run four years ago.

Like Murphy, Simpson recently relinquished her domestic hold of the 1500m to a younger runner, Shelby Houlihan, who was second-fastest in the world last year to Dibaba but is not in Rabat. Houlihan hasn’t raced anywhere since Feb. 24 but is entered in the Pre Classic in two weeks.

For Simpson, getting the better of Dibaba would be a heck of a message to send before nationals. Houlihan snapped Simpson’s four-year national title streak in 2018.

Here are the Rabat entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:01 p.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
1:03 — Women’s Discus
1:38 — Men’s High Jump
2:04 — Women’s 400m
2:11 — Men’s 1500m
2:25 — Women’s 100m
2:31 — Men’s Long Jump
2:33 — Men’s 800m
2:41 — Men’s Discus
2:41 — Women’s 1500m
2:54 — Men’s 200m
3:02 — Men’s 5000m
3:28 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
3:37 — Women’s 800m
3:47 — Men’s 300m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Discus — 1:03 p.m.
Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic is the headliner, but the Olympic and world champion ranks just 13th in the world this year after missing a discus podium for the first time in eight years at her season debut two weeks ago, according to Tilastopaja.org. The world’s top four women are in Rabat to challenge her, including American Valarie Allman, who in April launched the best throw by a U.S. woman since 2014.

Women’s 400m — 2:04 p.m.
Two of the four Americans to break 50 seconds since August 2017 are here, but the favorite has to be world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain, who hasn’t lost to anybody other than Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo since the 2017 World Championships. But the 2017 World champion is in this field, American Phyllis Francis. As is Kendall Ellis, who is in her first pro season. Miller-Uibo, not in this field, is the lone woman to break 50 this year.

Men’s Long Jump — 2:31 p.m.
Olympic champ Jeff Henderson, world champ Luvo Manyonga and 2018 world leader Juan Miguel Echevarria gather for the second time this season. Last time out, they were all beaten. Still, Henderson and Manyonga rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year, and nobody has approached the Cuban Echevarria’s monster 8.68-meter leap from last year.

Men’s 800m — 2:33 p.m.
Murphy has never won a race that involved Amos and has never finished ahead of Korir in six meetings, according to Tilastopaja. While Murphy remains likely to make the three-man world team, Brazier has to be the favorite for nationals unless Murphy can win here or beat Brazier’s time from Rome — 1:43.63.

Women’s 1500m — 2:41 p.m.
Dibaba is the overwhelming favorite after her 3:56.28 in Rome last week. The only woman to go faster since the start of 2017, Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan is also here with Simpson. Missing is Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, who is working her way back from childbirth.

MORE: Caster Semenya says she’s blocked from Rabat

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Michael Norman owns spotlight at Stockholm Diamond League; TV schedule

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Back on April 20, Michael Norman clocked the sixth-fastest 400m in history (43.45 seconds) and the fastest-ever both for somebody so young (21 years old) and this early in a calendar year. With that, he earned the right to utter the number 42.

“Running sub-43 is one of my goals,” Norman said last week. “Given how the season’s progressing, how deep the competition is around the world, I feel like running sub-43 is going to happen if not this year, then the following year.”

Norman actually doesn’t appear to have much competition at the moment. He races roommate Rai Benjamin at Thursday’s Diamond League meet in Stockholm (2 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold), but Benjamin’s primary event is the 400m hurdles.

World-record holder Wayde van Niekerk voiced the same 42-second goal for most of the time since he won the Rio Olympics in 43.03. But the South African has competed just once since the August 2017 World Championships. He missed all of 2018 after tearing a meniscus and ACL in an October 2017 celebrity tag rugby match. This week, Van Niekerk could not give a specific answer when asked to name his next race.

Likewise, 2012 Olympic champion and Rio silver medalist Kirani James raced just three times in the last two years. James, diagnosed with Graves’ disease, said last month that he hoped to return to competition later this season.

So Norman, for now, owns the spotlight.

“The 400m improvement was a shocking thing to me,” he said last week, after lowering his personal best from 44.6 to 43.45 in the last year. Nobody else has bettered 43.62 since van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson‘s record in Rio.

Here are the Stockholm entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

10:30 a.m. — Men’s Shot Put
10:30 — Women’s Shot Put
11 — Women’s Pole Vault
12:25 p.m. — Women’s Discus
1:35 — Men’s Long Jump
1:40 — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 400m
2:08 — Women’s High Jump
2:11 — Women’s 1500m
2:22 — Men’s 200m
2:30 — Women’s 5000m
2:52 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
2:56 — Men’s Discus
3:02 — Men’s 800m
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:30 — Women’s 200m
3:40 — Men’s 1500m
3:52 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
4:05 — Men’s 10,000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Discus — 12:25 p.m.
Olympic and world champion Sandra Perkovic makes her season debut against the Rio silver and bronze medalists. The Croat has lost just five times at Diamond League meets since the start of 2012, but Perkovic was beaten by Cuban Yaime Perez in two of her last three meets of 2018, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Men’s Long Jump — 1:35 p.m.
Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarria returns to the scene of one of the viral moments of the 2018 season, when he nearly jumped out of the pit in Stockholm. The 20-year-old hasn’t competed outdoors on the top international level since, only adding to the intrigue of Thursday’s showdown with Olympic champion Jeff Henderson and world champion Luvo Manyonga of South Africa. No man has jumped within eight inches of the world record since Mike Powell set it in 1991.

Men’s 400m — 2:03 p.m.
Norman has beaten Benjamin in all five of their head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja. That includes that April 20 race in California, where Norman ran 43.45 and Benjamin was a distant second in 44.31. If Norman can go faster in Stockholm, he’ll break a tie with 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner and become the fourth-fastest man in history behind van Niekerk, Johnson and Butch Reynolds. But the four fastest times in history were all clocked in August. Norman has four more months until he plans to peak at the world championships.

Women’s 200m — 3:30 p.m.
Olympic champion (Elaine Thompson) vs. world champion (Dafne Schippers) vs. fastest woman of 2018 (Dina Asher-Smith) vs. U.S. champion (Jenna Prandini). The Brit Asher-Smith has to be the favorite given she was the only woman to break 22 seconds last year (21.89) and owns the world’s fastest time this season.

Men’s 1500m — 3:40 p.m.
All three Ingebrigtsen brothers are in this event. As are the current kings of the mile — Kenyans Timothy Cheruiyot and Elijah ManangoiJakob Ingebrigtsen, youngest of the Norwegian siblings at age 18, is already the youngest sub-four-minute miler in history. Last year, he ran a 3:52 mile at the Pre Classic and then swept the European 1500m and 3000m titles. But only once has an Ingebrigtsen bettered Cheruiyot or Manangoi in a race of any distance (Filip Ingebrigtsen placing fifth to Manangoi’s 10th at the 2016 Diamond League Finals 1500m), according to Tilastopaja.

MORE: Matthew Boling, high school track phenom, chooses summer meets

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