RIO DE JANEIRO — American Dalilah Muhammad picked a good year to hit her peak in the 400-meter hurdles.
After two years of struggling with injuries and losing confidence over disappointing results, Muhammad won gold Thursday in 53.14 seconds, dominating the race despite a light rain that fell over Olympic Stadium.
Taking command early, Muhammad found herself all alone in the final 100 meters, cruising to the finish by a comfortable .42 seconds over Denmark’s Sara Slott Petersen. It’s the first time an American woman has won a gold medal in this event.
American Ashley Spencer, who was far back early, earned the bronze medal with a strong finishing kick while posting her personal best time of 53.72 seconds.
“It’s so exciting,” said Muhammad, the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the event. “This means so much; I’ve been working so hard for this. The last two years haven’t been the best but to finally be where I’m supposed to be at the right time, and I’m so happy about that.”
Muhammad’s performance at the U.S. Olympic trials foreshadowed her gold-medal run here. After making a coaching change in February and improving her fitness level, she posted the fastest time in the world this year and shaved nearly a second off her personal best.
“I just to remotivate myself to work harder,” she said. “I worked as hard as I ever did in this last year and being so much more disciplined played a huge factor.”
Though she didn’t run that fast in Rio, it was an impressive performance nonetheless for the former Southern Cal hurdler. Her game plan coming out of lane No. 3 was to hit the front as quickly as possible, and she didn’t disappoint. By hurdle No. 8, she had opened up on the field and was only going to get caught if she made a mistake.