This was just one of the magical moments on the Day 8 schedule. Stuart Weir opines on this fine event.
The one lap races at the 2019 World Championships have been magnificent. The women’s 400m flat in which the top five ran PRs was arguably the race of the year. Karsten Warholm confirming his superiority over all contenders in the men’s 400m hurdles was a joy to watch. The men’s 400m flat and Steven Gardiner’s classy performance was up there too. But the women’s 400m hurdles produced a world record and with the top four running PRs.
Dalilah Muhammed had set a new world record in the US Trials but the young pretender, Sydney McLaughlin had won the Diamond League final. I found myself wondering before the race if someone who had broken the world record this year could actually go into the World Championship final as underdog – so impressive had McLaughlin been. Either way the race was set-up.
In Zurich before the DL final I asked Muhammed to describe the experience of breaking the world record at US Nationals, a record which had stood since 2003: “I don’t have any words to put to that. It is really an indescribable feeling. Obviously you are happy, you are satisfied, you are joyous but there is also almost fear that comes along with it because I wasn’t expecting it, like Whao”, she told me, adding: “I wouldn’t say I was expecting it but I was hoping for it. That day wasn’t the greatest of conditions”.
When I asked about what how she had felt after the race, her answer was perhaps surprising: “Physically tired, obviously but I don’t think it was one of my most exhausting races. I have run other races where I felt more exhausted. I remember the first time breaking 53 seconds was the most tired I have ever been. But this one did not feel like that so I think there is more potential. I think the mental has been the most difficult”.
I asked if being the fastest in the world gave her extra confidence. She replied “Honestly, no. Definitely more pressure. I think it is just a little more pressure as everyone is stepping up their game”. She added that holding the world record was great but that her priority was always winning races without worrying about the time.
After the DL final I spoke to Dalilah and Sydney. In the way that athletes do, Sydney, having just won the race in 52.85, told me “It wasn’t the cleanest race for me personally but knowing where my fitness is at it was really great for me to come out here and win my first Diamond League title. I have a month before Doha to go back and fix things”. Looking at the year as a whole she said: “I knew it was going to be a hard adjustment – a new coach, a new place and schedule. I am surprised and I am happy – happy with the growth and the experiences I have been able to have. I know it can only go up from here”.
Dalilah – without making excuses at all – said that she was fine with third place in the DL final as her total focus was on Doha and that she was in training for that rather than preparing for the Diamond League final.
The World Championship result was:
1 Dalilah Muhammed 52.16
2 Sydney McLaughlin 52.23
3 Russell Clayton 53.74
Of the Doha final, Muhammed said: “This means so much. It’s difficult to describe. I just wanted the world title so much but to break the world record again is fantastic. I just decided to go for it from the start and I felt Sydney coming at me around hurdle nine. Then I just gave it everything I’d got. It hasn’t really sunk in yet but it feels good. I did not expect to break the world record today, I was definitely just trying to win that race. Two world records, that sounds quite crazy, now that it is done. My coach told me that it is possible and I just had to go there and believe in it. I believe that we can drop under 52s, the race was so tight, that was anybody’s race tonight. It was so close, we will continue to push each other. It is definitely possible.“
McLaughlin, who is only 20, and whose time would have been a world record – but for Muhammed’s two epic 2019 races, said: “I knew it would be fast but I didn’t think it would be that fast. I did everything I could and at least US got one-two. I gave it everything I had, I’m still young, and every day is a new experience for me.”
Book your seat for the next big encounter at Tokyo 2020. I already have.
Sydney McLaughlin, photo by Getty Images / IAAF