McLaughlin and Muhammad deliver Olympic hurdles epic

Sports Tokyo 2020

Sydney Mclaughlin (right) wins the women's 400m hurdles final ahead of Dalilah Muhammad (left) at the Olympics on Wednesday. AFP
Sydney Mclaughlin (right) wins the women’s 400m hurdles final ahead of Dalilah Muhammad (left) at the Olympics on Wednesday. AFP

Tokyo, Japan | AFP

by Rob Woollard

Sydney McLaughlin describes her ferocious-but-friendly rivalry with Dalilah Muhammad as iron sharpening iron.

On Wednesday, the two greatest women’s 400m hurdlers in track and field history dragged each other to gold and silver.

The latest chapter of the two Americans’ heavyweight double act lived up to its blockbuster billing, with McLaughlin dethroning 2016 Olympic champion Muhammad in spectacular fashion, smashing her own world record to take gold in 51.46 seconds.

Muhammad, who this year battled Covid-19 and injuries to both hamstrings to make it to Tokyo, took silver in 51.58sec -- well inside McLaughlin’s old world best of 51.90sec set in June.

It was the fourth time since 2019 that Muhammad and McLaughlin have met in a championship setting. On each occasion the world record has fallen.

“I think it’s just iron sharpening iron,” McLaughlin said after the epic clash. 

“You need somebody who’s going to push you to your best and that’s what we do so well,” the 21-year-old added.

“Every time we step on the track it’s always something fast.”

Muhammad, the reigning world champion, echoed McLaughlin’s remarks as she reflected on a race that she had led coming off the final hurdle before she was reeled in just metres short of the line.

“When you have someone as strong a competitor as Sydney, you can’t mess up and that’s where the pressure really lies -- not having any room for error,” Muhammad said. 

“I’m truly happy with the performance that both of us have put on and kudos to Sydney.”

Both women smiled and embraced after Wednesday’s classic duel in blazing sunshine at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium.

‘No bad blood’

McLaughlin said afterwards she does not see her on-track antagonist as a rival. 

“I don’t think it’s a rivalry -- there’s no bad blood,” she said. “It’s just two athletes wanting to do their best and knowing there’s another great girl who’s going to help you get there. That’s all it is.

“It’s just great sportsmanship -- knowing that we’re going out there giving it everything we have.”

Muhammad said she expected the world record would fall after watching the men’s 400m hurdles final on Tuesday, when Norway’s Karsten Warholm produced a jaw-dropping world record-breaking performance to take gold over US rival Rai Benjamin.

“I almost couldn’t watch the men because I was thinking about what might happen in our race, it’s kind of overwhelming,” Muhammad said.

“But I did watch the men -- I couldn’t help myself, being a track fan.

“I think a lot of people expected a world record, myself included.... I was looking forward to it, anticipating something crazy, something fast, and just hoping to be a part of it and to also run really, really well.”

For the most part Muhammad did just that, setting off at a ferocious pace and showing no sign of flagging as she cleared the final hurdle in the lead.

McLaughlin however revealed she has spent the past year working with legendary coach Bobby Kersee improving her finishing. 

That work paid off on Wednesday as she dug deep for the final 40 metres, running down Muhammad just short of the line to take the gold medal with the fast-closing Dutchwoman Femke Bol taking bronze in 52.03sec.

“We practised the last 40 metres so many times in practice,” McLaughlin said.

“It’s nothing unfamiliar for me. I knew I just had to give it everything I had. 

“When you’re racing such amazing talents as Dalilah and Femke, you know it’s going to come down to that last 40. You have to be prepared.”

Sydney Mclaughlin (left) says there is no bad blood with 400m hurdles rival Dalilah Muhammad (right). AFP
Sydney Mclaughlin (left) says there is no bad blood with 400m hurdles rival Dalilah Muhammad (right). AFP

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