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The track world is eagerly anticipating one of its best matchups in this week’s World Championships in Eugene, Ore.: Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin duking it out over a quarter-mile of hurdles.
When Muhammad broke the world record in the event at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, McLaughlin was there. When McLaughlin broke Muhammad’s record at the Olympic Trials in 2021, Muhammad was right behind her. At the Tokyo Olympics, Muhammad broke McLaughlin’s record but finished in silver-medal position, as McLaughlin had broken her own record as well to take gold. McLaughlin broke that record three weeks ago at the U.S. Championships.
The two did not toe the line together at Nationals, which was also held in Eugene, because Muhammad was recovering from a hamstring injury. But she successfully petitioned onto the Worlds team.
“I’m feeling really good,” Muhammad said in an email interview with FanSided when asked about her recovery from injury. “I’ve been training harder than at any other point in my career, and I’m more motivated than ever.”
Muhammad said she had been paying closer attention to fueling, particularly to recovery nutrition, during her injury rehab. In particular, she said, she has been drinking tart cherry juice from her partnership with Cheribundi, and credits it with helping relieve muscle soreness, fatigue, and inflammation. She also uses their products for sleep, she said.
On Tuesday night at Hayward Field, Muhammad easily won her preliminary heat in 54:45. On Wednesday, she won her semifinal in 53:28, her best time of the season so far. She will race in the final on Friday, July 22.
Muhammad said she had not necessarily been training harder, but rather more efficiently, in her preparation for Worlds. her work on the track and with weights is balanced with a focus on recovery. ” By taking the time to prioritize my recovery and let the injury heal, I now feel fresher and ready to go for Worlds.”
She is not overly worried about her continuing tradeoff of world record times with McLaughlin, whose performance she has said sharpens her own. “We push one another to be better,” Muhammad said. “The entire field is extremely competitive, potentially more than ever before. It’s a testament to the other women competing and the growth of the sport as a whole.”
Britton Wilson, the 2022 NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles, is another athlete whom Muhammad looks forward to racing this week. “I remember watching her compete on a junior team and thinking, ‘This girl is special.'”
Muhammad is known for her hurdling form, something she hones carefully in training.
“I am always working to be a better technician over the hurdles and my sprint mechanics,” she said. “It’s crazy to think at this point in my career that would be my focus, but it’s one of my strengths — why not make it stronger?”
Her right leg is dominant, and she primarily hurdles on that side. However, she has said that her 2019 world record is owed to a leg switch to her left side earlier in the race than she had anticipated — around the eighth (of ten) hurdle instead of on the ninth or final hurdle. She had previously switched legs earlier than planned when she won gold in Rio. As it turns out, though, that was a gametime decision in both cases.
“I learned in  that things don’t always go to plan, and that’s okay. The key is to push through and ask for the same result, even if it’s not the way you had in mind,” she said. “But…the switch isn’t part of the plan. I would love to not switch at all. I’m a stronger hurdler on the right side and would love that to be the only leg that comes up.”
Muhammad said that “God willing,” she will be vying for a spot on her third Olympic team in 2024. She said that she focuses more on herself and what improvements she can make for each race instead of the long-term picture. She is eager to complete her track season with the upcoming Diamond League races. ” I’m ready to drop some fast times and have fun while doing it,” she said.
She approaches her legacy in the sport similarly, focusing on the small victories while she continues competing. Muhammad said she wants to be an inspiration for athletes coming up behind her. She said she remembers looking up to older athletes, then finding herself competing against them, something she calls “surreal.”
“I constantly try to give praise to other athletes that are overlooked and will continue to do so. I think just putting my voice out there more is where my journey is leading me. It’s time to make real changes in the sport,” Muhammad said. She said she worries that Black women continue to be victims of discrimination in the sport, in everything from contracts to television coverage.
“It’s so important to be given your moment when, in fact, it’s your moment,” she said.
She hopes young Black and Muslim women will see her as a lodestar. Muhammad was raised Muslim and continues to practice her religion, but does not compete in a hijab and has spoken about combatting the public idea of what a Muslim female athlete “should” look like.
“There were so many times I didn’t see myself included in the conversation about Muslim athletes within my community and in general. Nowadays, that’s hardly the case. It’s good to feel that how I present is accepted as Muslim. So, for the most part, there really hasn’t been much prejudice,” she said.
Head down, focused on the next race.
“I hope to leave the sport better than I entered it,” Muhammad said.Article by Lela Moore for Fansided
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