Feature28 Aug 2019

Muhammad on her world record run: 'It was definitely magical'


Dalilah Muhammad in Zurich (© Jiro Mochizuki)

 Note: In case you missed it, this story first appeared in today's Pre-Zurich Live Updates blog

At the US championships in Des Moines exactly one month ago, Dalilah Muhammad took her body on a trip where none had ever gone before. And after her sensational 52.20 performance that clipped 0.14 from a world record that stood for 16 years, she needed a break.

Her coach, she said, gave her one week off, “And I definitely needed it, just mentally more than anything,” she said. “To just refocus and take a break from the track. It was definitely needed.”

She didn’t say if the journey towards that record began after she won the 2007 World Youth Title in Ostrava, or nine years later, when she raced to the Olympic title in Rio. But it was a long time coming.

“It's definitely something I've been working towards,” she said. “It was a little unexpected at the time. It was still kind of early (in the season), still a month away from (the world championships) and even before the Diamond League (final) so I had to just refocus to get ready for those things. But it was definitely magical.”

Refocusing meant that she and coach Lawrence Johnson haven’t even found the time to go back and analyse the race. There have been, as she suggested, more pressing matters to attend to.


Dalilah Muhammad on her way to a 400m hurdles world record at the US Championships


“In all honesty we haven’t really talked that much about it,” she said. “I know that sounds crazy. There was just a lot going on, more than I guess people realise, just that day even. I think he just wanted to refocus me and get me back on track to finish out the season strong, and not just settle on it --it’s crazy to say ‘settle’ on a world record-- when we had more things we wanted to accomplish.”

“We did go over the race slightly,” she admitted, but said no more.

“I’ve heard people tell me I can run 51.8. I don’t know if he thinks that, but we’ll see.”

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s Diamond League final race, where she’ll once again face rising star Sydney McLaughlin, Muhammad looks back to last year’s final, also in Zurich, when she won to end an otherwise subpar season on a high.

“I had a very up and down season - actually not a great season -- so to come home with a win here last year was definitely a surprise. It was late in the year and I wasn’t expecting it.”


Dalilah Muhammad on her way to winning the 400m hurdles at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich


In the off-season, Muhammad said she and Johnson adjusted their training somewhat, focusing more on her overall strength endurance.

“I went up in my training, running more 800s,” she said. That helped lead to at 53.61 victory in Doha in early May. “That was my fastest opener ever, by quite some margin, so definitely was a good indicator of where I was.” In fact, she was less three months shy of world record shape.

“I’m happy to have done it. If the record stays long, great. If it doesn’t, that’s okay too. It’s one of those things you’re happy to have accomplished.”

Motivation for McLaughlin

And, as it turns out, it also provided an important, and extremely rare lesson for McLaughlin, seen by many as her key rival.

“After that whole experience, which was kind of crazy, I remember crossing the line and I was just shocked and happy for her,” said McLaughlin, who turned 20 just three weeks ago.

“For me just being able to witness it and see what it takes, it was great to be able to see it, to take it in. Even though I wasn’t able to do I witnessed it and saw how far ahead I have to go.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF