Sydney McLaughlin finally outraced Dalilah Muhammad to earn victory, and the 400m hurdles world record, at the US Olympic trials on Sunday night.
The 21-year-old’s time of 51.90 seconds shattered the record by 0.26 seconds and beat Muhammad on the night by 0.52 seconds. It was a blowout victory in what had been touted as potentially the best race of the 10-day meet in Eugene, but it also set up what could be the best race in Tokyo. Barring something unexpected, the rematch will come on 4 August with the Olympic gold medal on the line.
“Truly just faith and trusting the process,” McLaughlin said when asked to explain her breakthrough.
McLaughlin burst onto the scene five years ago while still a teenager, telling stories about her multiple talents, which included juggling and riding a unicycle – and doing both at the same time.
Her 51.90 broke the record Muhammad set two years ago when they raced at the world championships. A few weeks before that, Muhammad set the world record by beating McLaughlin at US nationals, pure.
McLaughlin went to Bobby Kersee, the coach who got the most out of Allyson Felix, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner, among others to see if he could help her catch up with Muhammad. He put McLaughlin on a new plan, getting her focused on form and running shorter hurdles courses.
“It was trusting the process, and a lot of things you can’t really see coming,” McLaughlin said. “But just having the childlike faith in trusting everything is going to work out. Bobby’s really good at that.”
Muhammad has had a slow move into form this year. She said she couldn’t break 55 seconds when the year started, “so to get a 52 feels pretty good.”
“She definitely pushes me,” Muhammad said of her rival. Then, she turned to McLaughlin and said: “Congratulations, you world-record holder. It’s going to be a battle in Tokyo for sure.”