Dalilah Muhammad didn’t know if she had won the race, let alone bettered her own world record. She did both.
Muhammad won the marquee head-to-head of the world track and field championships in Doha on Friday, a 400m hurdles duel with fellow American Sydney McLaughlin that lived up to the hype.
Muhammad clocked 52.16 seconds, taking .04 off her time from the USATF Outdoor Championships on July 28, when she lowered a 15-year-old world record. McLaughlin was right on her tail, going 52.23 to become the second-fastest woman 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,” said Muhammad, who added her first world title to her Rio Olympic gold medal. “I did not expect to break the world record.”
Jamaican Rushell Clayton took the bronze, but she was 1.5 seconds behind the main attractions. The Muhammad-McLaughlin rivalry is the biggest story in U.S. female sprinting going into the Tokyo Games given a lack of Olympic gold-medal contenders in the 100m, 200m and 400m.
Muhammad, 29, emerged from being unsponsored out of college after getting eliminated in the 2012 Olympic trials first round to become one of the greatest sprinters in history.
McLaughlin, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, continued her unprecedented ascent less than two months after turning 20. In her first global championship final, she nearly became the youngest female world champion since Caster Semenya in 2009.
“It’s the rookie and the vet,” said McLaughlin, who like Muhammad trains in Southern California but with a different coach. “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.”
Especially at the end of Friday’s final. McLaughlin said she stuttered over the eighth of 10 hurdles. Still, Muhammad sensed McLaughlin closing in on her at the ninth.
“I wanted to make everyone in the race uncomfortable,” said Muhammad, who suffered a concussion in a practice fall two weeks before her July world record. “I had a lot of adrenaline pumping this race. I felt a little bit more determined and just kind of focused [than the previous world-record race]. And, surprisingly, it hurt a little bit more.”
McLaughlin said she was satisfied with silver, given she lowered her personal best by .52 of a second. She finishes the season, her first as a pro after one NCAA season at Kentucky, 2-2 in direct matchups with Muhammad.
“Sometimes I treat myself like I’ve been here for a while, and I would like to say that I have, but I think every day is a learning experience,” she told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel. “Hopefully I can take this and put it towards next year and try and do better.”
In other finals, Kenyan Conseslus Kipruto won the 3000m steeplechase by .01 over Ethiopian Lamecha Girma after eight minutes of racing. More on Kipruto extending the most dominant streak in the sport here.
Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim sent the crowd into pandemonium by defending his world title in the high jump, clearing 2.37 meters.
Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas kept the U.S. from sweeping the men’s 100m, 200m and 400m at a worlds for the first time since 2007, taking the 400m in 43.48 to make him the sixth-fastest man in history. Pre-race favorite Fred Kerley of the U.S. took bronze in 44.17, trailing surprise silver medalist Anthony Zambrano of Colombia.
In Friday semifinals, Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz needed to qualify into the final on time after placing sixth in his 1500m heat.
Centrowitz, who owns world silver and bronze medals, will look to upset Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot on Sunday. Cheruiyot, who won his semifinal, is 16-3 at 1500m or the mile over the last two years.
Both U.S. 4x100m relays advanced to Saturday finals, though the men nearly botched yet another handoff. Mike Rodgers‘ pass to anchor Cravon Gillespie was dangerously close to being out of the zone.
Gillespie slowed for the exchange, and the U.S. ended up third in the heat. The U.S. men last won an Olympic or world 4x100m in 2007.
Canada and Italy later protested for the U.S. to be disqualified, saying that exchange was out of the zone, but they were denied.
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