Sydney McLaughlin describes her fierce but friendly rivalry with Dalilah Muhammad as a sharpening iron.
On Wednesday, the two greatest runners in the 400m hurdles in athletics history trained for gold and silver.
The final chapter of the two Americans’ double heavyweight number lived up to its successful billing, with McLaughlin dethroning 2016 Olympic champion Muhammad in spectacular fashion, breaking his own world record for gold in 51.46 seconds.
Muhammad, who battled Covid-19 and both hamstring injuries this year to travel to Tokyo, took the silver in 51.58 seconds – well within McLaughlin’s old world record of 51.90 seconds established in June.
It was the fourth time since 2019 that Muhammad and McLaughlin had met in a championship setting. Each time, the world record fell.
“I think it’s just a sharpening iron,” McLaughlin said after the epic clash.
“You need someone who is going to push you to your best and that’s what we do so well,” added the 21-year-old.
“Every time we get on the track it’s always something fast. “
Muhammad, the reigning world champion, echoed McLaughlin’s remarks as she reflected on a race she had led past the final hurdle before being returned a few yards from the line.
“When you have a competitor as strong as Sydney you can’t go wrong and that’s where the pressure really lies – not being allowed to make mistakes,” said Muhammad.
“I’m really happy with the performance we both put in and well done in Sydney. “
The two smiled and kissed after Wednesday’s classic duel under the blazing sun at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.
– “No bad blood” –
McLaughlin later said she did not view her antagonist on the track as a rival.
“I don’t think it’s a rivalry – there’s no bad blood,” she said. “These are just two athletes who want to do their best and know that there is another great girl who is going to help you make it happen. That’s all.
“It’s just great sportsmanship – knowing that we are going out there giving everything we have. “
Muhammad said she expected the world record to fall after watching the men’s 400m hurdles final on Tuesday, when Norway’s Karsten Warholm produced a breathtaking world record performance to win gold on his American rival Rai Benjamin.
“I almost couldn’t watch the men because I was thinking about what might happen in our race, it’s a bit overwhelming,” Muhammad said.
“But I watched the men – I couldn’t help myself, being a track fan.
“I think a lot of people were expecting a world record, me included… I was looking forward, anticipating something crazy, something fast, and I was just hoping to be part of it and run very, very good. “
For the most part, Muhammad did just that, starting at a fierce pace and showing no signs of slowing down as she cleared the final hurdle in the lead.
McLaughlin, however, revealed that she spent the last year working with legendary trainer Bobby Kersee to improve her finish.
That work paid off on Wednesday as she dug deep for the final 40 meters, dropping Muhammad just before the line to win the gold with Dutchwoman Femke Bol taking bronze in 52.03 seconds.
“We’ve practiced so many times in the last 40 meters in practice,” said McLaughlin.
“It’s nothing new to me. I knew I just had to give her everything I had.
“When you run talent as incredible as Dalilah and Femke, you know it’s going to come down to those last 40. You have to be prepared. “
© 2021 AFP