DES MOINES — The record had stood for nearly 16 years as a barrier no women’s 400-meter hurdler could cross, but Dalilah Muhammad had come to view breaking it as an inevitability. She had won the gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, which redefined how she viewed herself. She had come within three-hundredths of a second of the mark in 2017, which opened her mind to the possibility. Lately, she had matched the record pace in practice. Muhammad’s coach, Lawrence Johnson, started telling her, “There’s no way you can’t do it.”
Sunday night, on a rain-drenched track in Drake Stadium at the U.S. outdoor track and field championships, Muhammad crossed the finish line, glanced at the clock and took a deep breath. “I did it,” she thought. And even though she had come to expect it, she still felt stunned.
“I’m still in shock,” she said. “I broke the world record. I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”
Muhammad, a 29-year-old from New York City, ran once around the blue oval and leaped over 10 hurdles in 52.20 seconds. The previous record of 52.34, held by Russian Yuliya Pechonkina, had stood since August 2003. Muhammad became the second American woman to hold the record, joining Kim Batten, who set her mark in 1995.
“This year, the world record has been on my mind,” Muhammad said. “I knew the field was so strong going in. I think we all decided going in, that’s what we would have to chase for to make the team.”
Sydney McLaughlin, a 19-year-old phenom, caught Muhammad from behind at a race this summer in Oslo, making her the favorite here in some minds. She finished second in 52.88 seconds, followed by Ashley Spencer in third in 53.11. McLaughlin and Muhammad said a U.S. medal sweep is possible in this fall’s world championships in Qatar.
“I’m sure it’s not going to be too long before it’s broken again,” McLaughlin said of the world record.
Drew Hunter, a Loudoun Valley High alum and Purcellville native, made the world championships in the men’s 5,000 meters. He finished fifth in 13:29.19, but he qualified as one of the Americans’ three entrants because two of the runners ahead of him — winner Lopez Lomong and third-place Woody Kincaid — have not achieved the qualifying standard time, but Hunter has.
“Looks like we’re going to Doha,” Hunter said. “I worked for that. It was not easy.”
Hunter, 21, became the youngest American to make the world championships in a decade. He turned professional out of high school and experienced a difficult transition but said he has never had regrets.
“You always have high goals and really, really dream for this,” he said. “I was about the most nervous person in that call room. This is the first time in my professional career I felt like something was on the line.”
Lomong (13:25.53) and Paul Chelimo, who won silver at the 2016 Olympics, sprinted neck-and-neck down the final straightaway. Lomong eked in front of Chelimo, bumping his arm at the finish line, to win his second title this weekend. On Thursday, he claimed the 10,000 meters.
Matthew Centrowitz, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters and a former Broadneck High standout, finished second in the event in 3:44.97, barely losing to Craig Engels (3:44.93) at the tape. Centrowitz, who changed coaches this year, found solace in making another world championship team.
“I’m getting older, man,” he said. “I don’t want to say I play conservative. But I felt like I had to make sure I made that team more than go for the win. I don’t take these teams for granted.”
On Saturday, promising 200-meter sprinter Kenny Bednarek provided a compelling update about his training — and about controversial American sprinting giant Justin Gatlin.
Bednarek, 20, turned professional and signed with Nike early this summer after a breakout performance in junior college. He said he is being coached by Dennis Mitchell, a notorious figure in the sport who received a ban in 1998 after testing positive for high testosterone levels. At the time, he blamed the failed test on drinking beer and having too much sex with his wife.
In the 2008 BALCO case, Mitchell testified he had received performance-enhancing substances from Trevor Graham, who has since been banned from the sport by USA Track and Field. Graham once coached Gatlin, too, before Gatlin served a doping suspension from 2006 to 2010. Afterward, Gatlin hired Mitchell.
Bednarek said he had no idea about Mitchell’s history. “Nike wanted to send me somewhere, and I just kind of listened,” he said. After he researched Mitchell, Bednarek felt comfortable.
“People make mistakes, but that’s all in the past,” he said. “I know he’s going to get me right, for this year and the rest of my career.”
When asked whom he was training with, Bednarek mentioned Gatlin. He then affirmed Mitchell is coaching Gatlin, which is certain to make waves in the track world.
In 2017, months after Gatlin upset Usain Bolt in the 100 meters at the world championships, undercover reporters from the Telegraph visited Mitchell’s training facility and recorded him offering to acquire performance-enhancing drugs for an actor posing as an athlete. In an Instagram post after the story published, Gatlin announced he had fired Mitchell. Now, it appears they have reunited.
Donavan Brazier and Clayton Murphy, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, have developed a strong rivalry in the men’s 800 meters. Sunday night, Brazier, ranked fifth in the world, pulled away in the final 200 meters and beat Murphy, his training partner, with a time of 1:45.62.
As Brazier conducted a post-race interview, Murphy (1:46.01) made clear they’re friendly rivals. “Come on, we got drug testing!” Murphy shouted at him. “The bar is going to be closed by the time we get out of here!”
Running in her home state, Shelby Houlihan recorded an achievement unseen in American track in nearly two decades.
A day after winning the 1,500 for the second straight year, Houlihan repeated as champion of the 5,000 meters, finishing in 15:15.50. That combination had not been pulled off in consecutive years since Regina Jacobs in 1999 and 2000.
Emma Coburn, the bronze medalist at the 2016 Olympics, won her sixth consecutive national title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a time of 9:25.63. Katy Kunc, a Lake Braddock High alum, finished 14th in 10:31.17.