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Sydney McLaughlin breaks her world record to win 400m hurdles

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5 min read
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TOKYO — Sydney McLaughlin shattered her own world record to win gold in Tokyo in the women's 400-meter hurdles on Wednesday, with fellow American Dalilah Muhammad also breaking the world record en route to a silver medal. 

McLaughin ran 51.46, to break her previous WR mark of 51.90. Muhammad ran in 51.58.

Let's try to put that in perspective and give an understanding of just how incredible that time is: of the 41 women who finished the women's flat 400m heats on Tuesday, only 18 ran faster than McLaughlin did — and she had 10 barriers in her path.

Muhammad went out incredibly fast, saying she knew McLaughlin and bronze medalist Femke Bol of the Netherlands are strong closers; McLaughlin anticipated the fast start, and said it was on her to stay patient and trust that she could finish.

McLaughlin and Muhammad have been rewriting the record book in their event for the past couple of years, so it's not a big surprise that they ran such brilliant races. Fair or not, such has been their greatness that it was basically expected that one or both of them would once again lower the world record in the final here.

But fans weren't the only ones: Muhammad said she knew it would take a world record to win. She shared that her coach, Lawrence Johnson, told her he thought she could run 51.7 seconds, "and I was like, is that fast enough?"

Muhammad did run faster, and she wasn't upset with the finish.

"I'm truly proud of second place and to come home with silver after breaking a world record," she said. "It could be mixed emotions but right now I don't feel that way, right now I truly feel proud of it, and I hope all the people back home are too."

The Queens, N.Y. native, who battled COVID-19 earlier this year, felt she could have been cleaner going into the final hurdle. McLaughlin erased Muhammad's lead in the flat between the ninth and 10th hurdles, and with the final 40 meters of the race a sprint, McLaughlin got home first.

"We've practiced the last 40 meters so many times in practice, so it was nothing unfamiliar for me," McLaughlin said. "I knew I had to go and give it everything I had and dip at the line."

Bol finished in 52.03, which would have been a world record five weeks ago. She had also received a lot of attention heading into Tokyo, as the 21-year-old lowered her personal best to 52.37 seconds at a Diamond League meet in Stockholm in July. 

McLaughlin, like 19-year-old 800 meter gold medalist Athing Mu, has been pointing toward this moment for years. She made the 2016 Rio Olympic team for the U.S. as a 16-year-old, though she did not advance to the final. McLaughlin had one year at the University of Kentucky before turning pro.

Over the last few years, she and Muhammad have pushed each other to incredible heights. They've said they don't see it as a rivalry. 

"It's really iron sharpening iron," McLaughlin said. "You need somebody who's going to push you to be your best and I think that's what we do so well is every time we step on the track it's always something fast. 

"There's no bad blood; it's two athletes wanting to be their best, and knowing that there's another great girl that's going to help you get there."

As soon as they crossed the finish line they hugged.

At 31 years old, Muhammad has been one of the two or three best women's long hurdlers in the world for almost a decade; she won her first world medal in the event, a silver, at the 2013 World Championships. She won the 2016 Olympic gold, 2017 world silver, and 2019 world gold. And while her rivals are 10 years younger, she was not willing to cede anything to them.

She believes that experience on the world stage is why she has a bit of a different perspective on her finish than fellow American Rai Benjamin, who endured the same thing in the same race on Tuesday: Benjamin ran a time that earlier this year would have seemed unheard of in his 400 hurdles final and lowered the world record, but finished second to Norway's Karsten Warholm.

American Anna Cockrell, who enjoyed an incredible season, finishing her career at the University of Southern California as just the second woman to win the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles at the same NCAA Championship meet and then followed it up with a third-place finish at the U.S. Trials, was disqualified for leaving her lane during the race.

Cockrell, who just turned pro, noted that this is the third time she's been in a race where the world record was broken — she was on the track for the 2019 U.S. Championship when Muhammad first broke the world record, then at last month's U.S. Trials when McLaughlin initially broke it, and Wednesday.

"It would be nice to be closer to the front in these races, but it's nice to be part of it, it's nice to be in the mix," she said. "I know what it feels like and I know what I need to do to get there. I take it all as a learning experience." 

Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 12 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 12 slideshow embed

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