(L-R) Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin posing after competing in the women's 400-meter hurdles final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Oct. 4, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
DOHA, Qatar – A world record doesn’t come along every day.
But with Dalilah Muhammad in the 400-meter hurdles, the odds definitely improve.
On the eighth day of the IAAF World Championships, Muhammad set the first world record of the meet, which also happened to be her second world record of the season.
And Sydney McLaughlin helped, becoming the second-fastest woman in history Friday night.
In what is shaping up as one of the top duels going into the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Muhammad broke her own two-month-old world record in the event with a time of 52.16 seconds.
The reigning Olympic champion was pushed the whole way by McLaughlin, who nearly broke the previous record of 52.20 as well. McLaughlin clocked 52.23 seconds, taking more than half a second off her previous best of 52.75 to claim her first world medal.
When she crossed the finish line, Muhammad had no idea she had set a world record.
“I didn’t even know who won the race,” she said.
Muhammad is the fourth Team USA athlete to win this event, following Kori Carter, who won in 2017, Lashinda Demus in 2011 and Kim Batten in 1995. Batten also set the world record in her race.
“I definitely did think the race was pretty fast from the start,” said Muhammad, who won silver medals at worlds in 2017 and 2013. “Sometimes you kind of tell yourself to kind of back off a little bit. Maybe you’re going too fast, but in this race, I just knew there was no holding back that could be done.
Muhammad will receive a $100,000 bonus upon ratification of the world record in addition to the $60,000 she earns as a gold medalist in an individual event.
Muhammad credited “just hard work, go out there every day and just try to give it my all. It feels good to have it come together when it mattered most.”
Will the novelty of breaking a world record wear off? “I don’t think you ever get used to it,” she said, “but with it this competitive in this event, I have no choice.”
Muhammad, 29, and McLaughlin, 20, hugged at the finish. When the times were posted and the "WR" flashed in the screen, McLaughlin tapped Muhammad on the leg and shook her head in amazement.
“It’s crazy,” McLaughlin said. “Having so much depth in the U.S. is really amazing and just being able to push each other to constantly be our best is what makes the sport great.”
McLaughlin said earlier in the championships that a world record is "something you don't try to do. I think if it comes, it comes. I think that race where Dalilah broke it (at U.S. championships in Des Moines, Iowa, in late July) we were all just running. She just happened to run a little bit faster than everybody else."
And that’s what Muhammad did again at worlds. While McLaughlin was proud of her time, the competitor in her couldn’t help being disappointed about the outcome.
“It’s been a long season and I’m a little tired,” she said of her subdued demeanor. “I think I can take a PR and being able to be on my first world team, I can’t complain.”
Muhammad, in Lane 6, and McLaughlin, in Lane 4, were close most of the race in Khalifa International Stadium. But by the seventh hurdle, Muhammad had separated herself and had some space after clearing the 10th.
“I think I was pretty out from the beginning,” Muhammad said. “I definitely knew she’d be there and mostly I was just trying to put as much distance as I could as possible. She has a great finish and I was just trying to focus on being an excellent hurdler and use my speed.”
McLaughlin is known for her flat speed and she closed the gap until she was almost even at the finish.
“I think my eighth hurdle I kind of stuttered a little bit and lost some momentum,” McLaughlin said, “so I think the last final stretch was kind of just me giving it everything I had and seeing how close I could get. It obviously wasn’t enough, but I can take a PR.”
Even the U.S. men's 4x100 team, which had just finished their television interviews inside the stadium, stood by the track and watched.
Rushell Clayton of Jamaica was third in 53.74 seconds, while Ashley Spencer of Team USA, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, was sixth in 54.45, edging Anna Ryzhykova of Ukraine by .001 seconds.
Clayton, who ran a personal best, said, “All I did was maintain my composure and run for a bronze medal,” she said.
Muhammad and McLaughlin have dueled all year, with each losing only to the other.
McLaughlin, who in 2016 became the youngest U.S. track athlete to compete at the Olympic Games since 1972, defeated Muhammad at the Diamond League meet in Olso in June. After Muhammad won nationals, McLaughlin prevailed in the Diamond League Final in Zurich.
"I think the hurdles distract me from the fact that I'm running a 400," McLaughlin said. "It gives me something else to focus on. But I think it's just really fun to test your strength and see what it's like to do two things at once.”
Muhammad, who said she needed a mental break after nationals, knew she had an extra spotlight on her coming into Doha because of her record.
"Absolutely, but I think that comes along with the territory," she said. "It's nothing bad.”
Asked how much credit does McLaughlin deserve for pushing her all the way, Muhammad paused. “That’s a hard question,” she said. “I definitely push myself every single day at practice, so I don’t focus on Sydney or anybody else in the field every single day. I just try to focus on me and the finish line.”
But she won’t say for certain that she’s the favorite for Tokyo. “I’m definitely going there trying to defend my title,” Muhammad said. “I don’t know if I’m the favorite, but we’ll see.”
She knows McLaughlin is likely to be there, as well as the potential for a world record.