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In our Thrills in Tokyo series, we’ll highlight some of the summer Olympics biggest competitions. More than just focusing on the teams, we’ll look at the colleges from which these athletes hail.
The women’s 400-meter hurdles has all the ingredients to be one of Tokyo 2020’s most memorable track and field competitions. Youth, experience, speed, technique, inspiring stories; this race has it all.
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“It’s going to be a battle in Tokyo for sure,” said one of the protagonists, Delilah Muhammad, after Sydney McLaughlin broke the world record during the Olympics trials—a record set by Muhammad during the 2019 World Championship.
While some consider this race a passing of the torch, Muhammad is ready to keep her reign very much alive. After securing gold in Rio, she went on to win the 2019 World Championships in Doha. But even with such an impressive record, making it to Tokyo is a feat in itself. The Queens, New York native contracted COVID-19 twice during the pandemic, injured her hamstring earlier this season, and had only participated in three races this year before the trials. She still managed to run her third-fastest time ever, finishing second after Sydney McLaughlin set that new world record.
Muhammad almost quit the sport after graduating from the University of Southern California in 2012. Thankfully she decided to stick to it. She's the second female 400-meter hurdler in history (after Sally Gunnell) to have won the Olympic and World titles, and also to have broken the world record.
For her part, Sydney McLaughlin, who went to the University of Kentucky before turning professional, is becoming a record-setter in her own right. In Rio 2016, at 16 years old, she became the youngest U.S. Olympian to compete in track & field since 1972. And with the new world record she set during the Olympic trials, she became the first woman to run the event in under 52 seconds.
But there’s more to her than just being incredibly fast. She volunteers for the Central Jersey Chapter of Hope Worldwide, distributing fire safety and disaster relief information on behalf of the American Red Cross and speaks openly about her Catholic faith. “I see myself impacting the lives of others by living by example through my actions and kindness,” she has said. “Beyond being a great athlete, I want to be known as a good person of strong faith and integrity.”
The last three times Muhammad and McLaughlin raced in a championship final, one of them set a world record. "Iron sharpens iron. There's no animosity or hard feelings. We have to have each other to have these world records," McLaughlin said after the Olympic Trials. "It's an honor. So many amazing women have come before me and will come after me. The glory isn't forever."
Tonight, we’ll see which one rises to the top.
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Catch full Olympic coverage on NBC, including the Women’s 400-meter Hurdles Final, tonight, Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. ET.