Sports Zone

Two extraordinary competitors going head-to-head in 400-meter hurdles


Track and field does not often lend itself to sustained dominance. The ability to deliver peak performance is challenged by any combination of physical realities, luck and fate. There are always younger athletes emerging to challenge the older ones. In this year’s 400-meter hurdles, we will likely witness something special when two extraordinary athletes take the stage at the same time.
In 2019, the most acclaimed American track and field athlete was a 400-meter hurdler named Dalilah Muhammad, who was born and grew up in New York City. I grew up in New York City, but the only things I hurdled as a child were fire hydrants and dog droppings. I have a profound regard for Muhammad for finding a more productive use of her hurdling ability to ”leap tall buildings at a single bound.”
Muhammad specializes in the 400-meter hurdles and won the gold medal in world record-setting time at the 2019 World Championships. Watching her run is as exhilarating as when I first heard Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band in 1974 (I have the ticket stub to prove it!).
Is Muhammad dominant? If she wins the Olympics in Tokyo, I think it will be fair to say her resume says ”yes.”
Still, there are so many talented women in this event, especially Sydney McLaughlin, who was raised across the river from Muhammad in New Jersey (in my father’s hometown and not far from where the previously mentioned ”Boss” grew up). Like The Boss, McLaughlin has been rocking and rolling since she was a teenager, having been the best high school athlete in the United States multiple times. And, in 2016, she became the youngest person (at 16) to make the American Olympic Track and Field Team since 1972.
Muhammad and McLaughlin are poised, radiant, focused, and stylish to boot. Their races at the Trials are circled in my program, and I will save my program from that day the same as I did the Springsteen ticket.
Fortunately, there is room for both on the American team if they perform well, and a third spot open for a deep pool of women hurdlers, including Shamier Little, who could beat them both: so much for dominance.
Even if dominance isn’t certain, admiration and respect for your competitors are. All elite athletes understand that the battle to be great is within themselves. Athletes understand and commit to the training mantra that you can only control yourself.
It’s a beautiful sporting Buddhist paradox: to defeat your competitors, you cannot compete against them.
At the end of the races between Muhammad and McLaughlin, they will embrace and congratulate each other. This is true in all the events. The embrace will be sincere and profound because all high-level performance comes from the synergy of combined excellence. I long ago discovered that I value the significance of those gestures more than I do championships and medals.
Do not miss the women’s 400-meter hurdle races!



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