51:46! Sydney McLaughling Gets Gold and World Record #2

By Jonathan Gault
August 4, 2021

TOKYO — Another day, another world record.

For the second time in 24 hours, two athletes obliterated the world record in the 400-meter hurdles in the Olympic final, with a third coming incredibly close to the old mark. Sydney McLaughlin, Dalilah Muhammad, and Femke Bol did what Karsten Warholm, Rai Benjamin, and Alison dos Santos did yesterday on the Olympic Stadium track, but just because we have seen it before does not make the achievement any less grand. The men’s 400-meter hurdles was instantly acclaimed as one of the greatest races in the history of the sport, setting the bar for this morning’s race abrsurdly high, and McLaughlin, Muhammad, and Bol matched it. That should be impossible.

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When McLaughlin’s winning time of 51.46 flashed on the scoreboard, it did not generate quite the same shockwave as Warholm’s 45.94 from a day before. It took an enormous .44 of a second off the world record, the largest improvement since 1984, though it was not quite as large as Warholm’s .76 improvement on Tuesday. Plus McLaughlin had already broken the 52-second barrier at the US Olympic Trials in June.

Hurdle-for-hurdle, though, this was a better race in Tokyo, the outcome in doubt until the very last moment when McLaughlin motored away from Muhammad (51.58 for silver, also well under McLaughlin’s month-old 51.90 WR) off the final hurdle to win her first Olympic title. Muhammad’s silver gave the Americans a 1-2 finish, with the Netherlands’ Bol running a European record of 52.03 for the bronze, a time that would have stood as the WR just six weeks ago.

Muhammad attacked early and was first to each hurdle on the back straight, just ahead of McLaughlin and Bol. Muhammad, who broke the world record twice in 2019, led through six hurdles, then seven, then eight. After McLaughlin’s heroics at the Olympic Trials, this was Muhammad re-asserting herself, reminding the world why she is the reigning world and Olympic champion.

Muhammad cleared nine with controlled ease. McLaughlin, meanwhile, stuttered her steps entering the hurdle and suddenly she was in a battle just to hold onto silver with Bol, a fellow 21-year-old six months her junior. Bol entered (and exited) with the slowest pb of the three, but resolved to give herself a chance to run with the two Americans.

“I just went out like crazy for the first 300 to be with them in the last 100 meters,” Bol said. “And I died a bit, but that was the plan, to be really fast the first part so I could just try to see what I could push my body to when I was racing against them.”

Ten hurdles down and still Muhammad led. But McLaughlin was closing now, and even though Muhammad, three lanes to McLaughlin’s right, could not see her, “I knew she’d be there,” Muhammad said.

Once McLaughlin had a clear view of the finish line, she found a gear that only she possesses, one that a 400-meter hurdler should not be able to access after clearing 10 barriers. McLaughlin sprinted away from Bol, powered past Muhammad, and there she was, Olympic champion and a world record breaker again.

“You know we’ve practiced the last 40 meters so many times in practice, so it was nothing unfamiliar for me,” said McLaughlin. “I knew I had to go and give it everything I had into a dip at the line.”

Muhammad, for her part, felt like “I either could have went left leg, could have went right leg [over the final hurdle]. I chose to go right leg and had to shorten my stride to do so…But that’s just kind of how it goes…I did all I that could do in those moments and little [mistakes] here and there that I’m, you know, probably going to beat myself up about, but now I’m truly happy with that [performance].”

This Olympics has shined a light on the extraordinary expectations faced by the Games’ biggest stars, and no American runner of her generation has had more of them placed on her shoulders tha McLaughlin. McLaughlin responded by saying after her prelim in Tokyo that “pressure is an illusion,” and everything she has accomplished in her career has backed that assessment up. A World Youth champion by 15. An Olympian by 16. An NCAA champion, fastest in the world, and the next face of US track & field by 18. Now she has fulfilled all of that potential with the achievement of all track & field achievements, a world record in an Olympic final. And she’s still only 21 years old.

It is exceedingly rare for McLaughlin to radiate anything other than composed confidence. Like her mentor Allyson Felix for most of her career, McLaughlin is unfailingly polite with the media, conscientious in which parts of her life she chooses to share. The image she projects is of someone whose life is always proceeding exactly as she means it to; even when she trailed off the final hurdle this morning, there was no hint of panic.

“[Pressure] is fear of something that hasn’t happened in your mind that you’re assuming has already happened,” McLaughlin said. “So it’s really just making sure that your thoughts are positive and what you want them to be in order to make them happen in reality.”

When McLaughlin changed coaches from Joanna Hayes to Bobby Kersee in 2020 — her fourth coach in as many years — she kept the news quiet for months until before casually announcing it ahead of her 2021 season opener. It is a significant decision, to go from a woman who guided you to a World Championship silver medal and the third-fastest time in history at the age of 20, but McLaughlin knew she wanted more. Rather than running off instinct, she wanted a specific race plan, and more technical knowledge of an event Kersee himself ran. Ironically, that meant racing the 100m hurdles only until just three weeks before the US Olympic Trials. But as soon as McLaughlin debuted in her specialty with an easy 52.83 at the Music City Track Carnival, it became clear that Kersee, who has now coached Olympic champions in every sprint event, knew what he was doing.

“I think Bobby has so much knowledge, you know, not only in the sport but, beyond just in general and I think he’s definitely helped me mentally get to a place where I’m able to come out here and perform like I did today,” McLaughlin said. “He saw things in me and in my career that I didn’t even see in myself…One thing I’ve learned is that his numbers don’t lie. When he says that you can do something, you can do it.”

Muhammad’s path to Tokyo was beset by a hamstring injury and a case of coronavirus in February, which meant just two hurdles races before the Trials none faster than 54 seconds. But she showed once again why she is one of the sport’s great championship performers, summoning a season’s best to take second at the Trials and the fastest time of her life — by over half a second — to take silver today.

Just as yesterday, the times deserve a closer look. Muhammad and McLaughlin have now combined to take .88 of a second off the world record in previous two years. Clearly, the two feed off each other. This was the fourth time Muhammad and McLaughlin have met in a championship final over the past three years, and the fourth time the world record has fallen (each has two; rubber match in Eugene 2022?). 

But half of that .88 margin came in today’s race on a track that its architect believes is worth 1-2% (1% of the previous WR is .52 of a second). The more evidence that accumulates in Tokyo — Elaine Thompson Herah’s 10.61/21.53, Warholm’s 45.94, McLaughlin’s 51.46 — the more accurate that assessment appears (more on that below).

What next? Muhammad may have just run the fastest time of her career, but she is also 31 years old. There should be more showdowns with McLaughlin to come, but there is no guarantee that either or both will remain at peak fitness. 

So let us appreciate what these two remarkable women have done. Together, they have not just reset the boundaries of what is possible in their event, but also transformed the 400 hurdles, a largely ignored when Muhammad won her first global medal at the Worlds in Moscow eight years ago, to the marquee event of the Olympic track & field program, authors of a race that will resonate in eternity.

Quick Take by Robert Johnson: The American women were more than happy to rave about the track

After yesterday’s men’s 400 hurdles race, Karsten Warholm raved about the track here in Tokyo saying, “That track is crazy. It is a great track”. In contrast, Rai Benjamin didn’t want to credit the track for much. The American women today, however, were clearly in the Warholm camp

“This track is definitely different,” said McLaughlin. “…I definitely say it’s a fast track, you can feel the difference — you know the MONDO and everything. I don’t know how to really describe it. A lot of people talked about the shoes but I do think it’s just one of those tracks. It gives you that energy right back and pushes you and propels you forward… Definitely felt a difference [as] compared to Eugene.”

“It was a fast track I think that’s just really what it boils down to,” Muhammad said. “It truly felt fast. As a 400 hurdler, you can kind of tell how fast the track is by how easily you’re making your steps in between the hurdles and it was spot on every single hurdle, so I’m like wow, this is a fast track, I was able to do a 14-step pattern today…I can feel that energy return, especially when you go into (hurdle) eight and feel that death. I didn’t feel like I was going into death.”

Talk about today’s 400h race on our world-famous messageboard / fan forum.

Results

POS BIB COUNTRY ATHLETE MARK
1 3870 USA Sydney MCLAUGHLIN 51.46 WR
2 3876 USA Dalilah MUHAMMAD 51.58 PB
3 2987 NED Femke BOL 52.03 AR
4 2513 JAM Janieve RUSSELL 53.08 PB
5 3757 UKR Anna RYZHYKOVA 53.48
6 3766 UKR Viktoriya TKACHUK 53.79 PB
7 3122 PAN Gianna WOODRUFF 55.84
  3836 USA Anna COCKRELL DQ

Men’s 110H semifinals: Holloway, Allen lead qualifiers to final

by Karl Winter

The second-fastest 110 hurdler of all time and reigning World champ, Grant Holloway, is into the final after running the fastest semifinal mark of the day — 13.13 (-0.1 m/s) to win heat three.

Another American, Devon Allen, appears to be in the form to improve on his fifth-place finish in Rio, as he won the second heat in 13.18 (+0.1), the second-quickest mark of the morning.

Holloway got out to his usual rapid start but got close to the final few hurdles, allowing Jamaican Hansle Parchment (2012 Olympic bronze medallist) to close the gap slightly. Parchment finished second in heat three in 13.23, to co-third-fastest mark.

Jamaican champ Ronald Levy won the first heat in 13.23 (+0.3 m/s), so Jamaica will also have two men in the final.

Reigning World bronze medallist Pascal Martinot-Lagarde of France is also peaking at the right time, as he went a seasonal-best 13.25 for second in heat one to make the final. The French also got another through to the final, as Aurel Manga ran 13.24, equal to his pb, behind Allen in heat two.

Daniel Roberts of the USA led the first heat through the first few hurdles but faded hard, running 13.33 for fifth, missing the final.

Remember, former global medallists Sergey Shubenkov and Orlando Ortega both did not start in the first round and reigning Olympic champ Omar McLeod isn’t here, so though Holloway remains the favorite for gold, these semifinals did little to clear up the race for the other two medals.

The final is tomorrow morning in Tokyo or tomorrow evening in the US.

SUMMARY

POS RANK HEAT BIB COUNTRY ATHLETE MARK DETAILS REACTION TIME WIND
1 1 3 3934 USA Grant HOLLOWAY 13.13 Q 0.130 -0.1
2 1 2 3901 USA Devon ALLEN 13.18 Q 0.121 +0.1
3 2 3 2617 JAM Hansle PARCHMENT 13.23 Q 0.145 -0.1
4 1 1 2597 JAM Ronald LEVY 13.23 Q 0.154 +0.3
5 2 2 1964 FRA Aurel MANGA 13.24 =PB Q 0.151 +0.1
6 2 1 1965 FRA Pascal MARTINOT-LAGARDE 13.25 SB Q 0.155 +0.3
7 3 1 1800 ESP Asier MARTÍNEZ 13.27 PB q 0.150 +0.3
8 4 1 2062 GBR Andrew POZZI 13.32 q 0.148 +0.3
9 5 1 3963 USA Daniel ROBERTS 13.33   0.195 +0.3
10 3 3 2696 JPN Shunsuke IZUMIYA 13.35   0.141 -0.1
11 3 2 2635 JAM Damion THOMAS 13.39   0.135 +0.1
12 4 2 2417 ITA Paolo DAL MOLIN 13.40   0.133 +0.1
13 4 3 2277 HUN Valdó SZŰCS 13.40   0.140 -0.1
14 5 2 3521 SUI Jason JOSEPH 13.46   0.135 +0.1
15 6 2 3603 TPE Kuei-Ru CHEN 13.57   0.146 +0.1
16 5 3 1507 CHN Wenjun XIE 13.58   0.154 -0.1
17 6 3 1311 BRA Rafael Henrique CAMPOS PEREIRA 13.62   0.154 -0.1
18 6 1 3189 POL Damian CZYKIER 13.63   0.152 +0.3
19 7 3 2054 GBR David KING 13.67   0.141 -0.1
20 7 2 1906 FIN Elmo LAKKA 13.67   0.139 +0.1
21 7 1 1086 AUS Nicholas HOUGH 13.88   0.163 +0.3
22 8 1 1313 BRA Gabriel CONSTANTINO 13.89   0.159 +0.3
23 8 3 1608 CYP Milan TRAJKOVIC 14.01   0.147 -0.1
24 8 2 2697 JPN Taio KANAI 26.11   0.127 +0.1

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