While there might not be much track going on in New York State, there is plenty of history to pore through. In our time off, we are looking to revisit all of the State Records for the Outdoor Season. Who these athletes were, where their marks came from, and where are they now. Twice a week, we'll be releasing "Snapshots Of A State Record," where you can learn what it takes, to put your mark on history. Tune in!
We look here at the sixth-oldest record still on the books for the girls. Enjoy!
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Dalilah Muhammad is finishing her stretches for the upcoming final seeded section of the 400 meter hurdles at the 2007 Nike Outdoor Nationals championship. It's mid June on a nice Saturday evening, and she is shutting down her season after this last race. Yesterday she ran the 400m leg of the sprint medley relay for her Benjamin Cardozo team as they finished 5th in 4:00.52.
Here in the 400H though she is shooting for something a lot higher than 5th. Here and throughout her life, Muhammad follows a simple mantra that echoes the actress Greta Garbo's famous line from the 1930s, except that Muhammad doesn't just "want" to be alone. Her goal in this race as all others is, "I am always alone at the finish."
It's a nice thought for the girl from Queens who as a Cardozo junior on the previous weekend ran in the 60's in two 400H races as she picked up her second outdoor States title in a row. But setting up in lane 5 for this race at NON, she isn't even the favorite.
In lane 4 is the Penn Relays champ Ryan Krais of Methacton HS Pennsylvania, and she's run more than a second faster than Muhammad's best at some big meets this season and she placed 3rd ahead of Muhammad's 4th at the 2006 NON. She will get to watch Muhammad throughout the race as she attempts to make up the stagger. Jackie Coward of West HS in Knoxville TN is the nation's top hurdler at the 300H distance her state runs and is also one of the favorites in lane 3. Both Krais and Coward are just beginning their their big postseason of national and international championship races.
After the gun goes off and the hurdlers begin their circuit around the track, Krais gradually slices into the staggered lead that Muhammad was given in lane 5. As they make the turn into the home stretch, Krais has built a slight lead, and Coward is also challenging. Over the final hurdle, Krais touches down first, but it's still 40 tough meters to the finish. Muhammad surges and meters from the end she leans and hits the line in 57.09 with Krais in 2nd at 57.26.
Muhammad has just knocked almost 3 seconds off her PR, Krais about 1 1/2 seconds off hers. Muhammad has not only set a meet record but also crushed a 28-year-old NY state record. Asked coming into the meet how she would handle the bid for a national title, she had said, "I'm just keeping it open, like anything's possible."
The "anything" that was a possibility for Muhammad is a national championship that will set her on the path to future world championships and an Olympic gold medal. Her winning mark at NON is not a national record, but the US and World records are waiting for her a dozen years away in 2019.The girl who has dreamed big from her earliest years will eventually see a lot of dreams come true.
Dalilah Muhammad took her first steps at 8 months old and was flying around her home in the Rochdale Village complex in Jamaica, Queens before her first birthday. Constantly on the move in her playground days, she caught an amazed eye from many people in the neighborhood. One of those neighbors was George Taylor, coach of the local Nova Track Club that helped young people in Queens develop their track skills and compete in local meets.
"She was always full of energy," said Taylor of the young dynamo. "She was always jumping and flipping all over the place at a young age." And so when Muhammad was 7-years-old, Taylor convinced her parents that she needed to join his team so that she could develop the huge potential that was so clearly hers. So began her years with the Nova team, learning the basics of many different track and field events along with all the intangibles that go along with them like desire, determination, and courage.
Muhammad had a special presence on the Novas from early on. "She always wanted to learn everything," said Taylor. "She was very competitive, and anything she did she wanted to be the best at." Along with running at many different distances, she put her leaping talents to good use in the high jump.
Of course, one running event that also requires a lot of jumping is the hurdles, and Taylor thought that Muhammad was a natural there. "My coaches used to tell me that I was made for this race, " said Muhammad of her introduction to hurdles. "Part of me believed that."
There was another part though that felt that hurdles was the last thing that Muhammad wanted to do after a nasty spill when she was around 11. He mother stepped in, saying, "My baby cannot be in these hurdles. She is going to hurt herself." For a few years, Muhammad took a break from the event she seemed made for, but she would return to it even though she would get hurt many times while doing it.
Once she began high school in the fall of 2004, Muhammad joined the Benjamin Cardozo HS track team in nearby Bayside, which was part of the Public Schools Athletic League in New York City. The PSAL girls were entering a golden-age period of track as teams such as Medgar Evers, Boys and Girls, Paul Robeson, Christopher Columbus and other rivals of the Cardozo Judges began to rack up wins in the sprints, relays, and jumps at the States meets. Beginning with Selena Sappleton of A. Phillip Randolph at the 2004 States meet in a great 58.94, the 400 hurdles was also an event that the PSAL athletes would do very well in.
In her freshman year, Muhammad's focus was on the high jump where she found her first niche on the Cardozo team and started collecting PSAL championships. As a freshman she was also fast enough to help her Cardozo 4x400 team start a winning streak at the Millrose games. She was one of two Judges that qualified for the indoor States championship at Syracuse's Carrier Dome, and she finished 7th at a height of 5-4. She did even better in the spring when she moved up another inch and placed 5th at the States championship at Cicero-North Syracuse.
During the summer seasons, Muhammad still had the Novas track club to work out with. Many of the athletes in the PSAL competed with both club and high school teams, and balancing the demands of two different coaches was difficult for some. Muhammad did not have any huge issues there, and she saw big pluses for both high school and club teams. "The greatest benefit of high school track is you get the exposure," she said. "Club track gives you the background."
By her sophomore year, Muhammad was making her presence felt on the track in a big way even as she continued trying to soar higher in the high jump. In December at the Bishop Loughlin games she took 1st in the 600m and also helped Cardozo's 4x400m get the win in a time of 3:54.51. She also had a nice showing at the Hispanic Games in the Armory as she placed 3rd in the 200m at 24.67 and 2nd in the 400m at 56.06. Her Cardozo 4x400m squad took a second straight Millrose Games win. She qualified for indoor States at Cornell in two events and took 4th in the 600m and again jumped 5-4 in the high jump but this time earned a 5th. Her teammate Lindsay Rowe won the 55m hurdles. Wrapping up the season at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships, Muhammad took 3rd in the 400m at 55.23.
During the spring season of 2006, Muhammad began her return to the event she'd sworn off after her fall in it years before. With her strong mid distance stamina and good leaping ability, the 400m hurdles was a natural for her. "I came back to them because they were a ticket to travel," she would say later after many successes at the higher levels that allowed her to go to world championships. "When you travel overseas, it's a totally different experience. The Olympics would only be that much better." And yes, not too long after returning to hurdles, she had a goal to get to the Olympics.
During her sophomore outdoor track season, Muhammad continued to roll up PSAL wins. At the Loucks Games in May, she held off Boys and Girls' Adreall Sterrett and Nadonia Rodrigues to win the 400m in 55.91, though B&G beat the Judges in the 4x400m by 2 seconds as Cardozo ran a 3:55.81. Muhammad was working her way up in the 400H, and she finished the season ranked 5th in the nation. At States she captured the D1 title on the first day at 61.89 and then won the Federation title at 60.05 along with finishing 2nd in the high jump at 5-5. A week later, Cardozo took a squad of four down to NON at North Carolina A&T, and Muhammad broke the 60 barrier with a 59.64 to place 4th, and her 4x400m team also placed 4th in 3:48.79.
Muhammad's legend began to grow larger after her exploits at the Millrose Games in 2007 during her junior year. Leading off Cardozo's 4x400m bid for a third straight win after triumphs in 2005 and 2006, Muhammad's right foot got stepped on, leaving her without a shoe and a gash around the ankle. "It was confusing," she said, having now to deal with a bloody foot. "I didn't know if I should stop running, so I kept running. I continued for my teammates." She pulled off her right sock and sprinted to an unofficial 56.04 time on the first leg to put Cardozo on the lead for a win in 3:58.35. The Judges' squad of Tessa West, Lindsey Rowe, Alison Lee and Muhammad were awarded the Mayor's Cup for the three-year run of titles.
Her foot healed up well enough for her to reach new heights in the high jump, and at States she leaped to 5-9 to win her first States championship. She also placed 2nd to Phyllis Francis of Catherine McAuley in the 600m. With a first States title in hand, it was off to the Armory a week later for the NSIC Nationals to capture her first individual national championship title with a 54.23 to win the 400m, and then a first team title as she ran the 400m leg of Cardozo's champion SMR team.
Muhammad moved through her junior outdoor track season with the aim to push to new limits. She went to outdoor States as the favorite in two events and won them both, taking the high jump with a 5-9 jump and the 400H at 60.37. A second consecutive hurdles win was big, but she still had some ground to make up when she went to NON. Helping Cardozo get a solid 5th in the SMR gave her an extra boost, and she rode to an explosive record-shattering win in the 400H at 57.09. New horizons opened up for her as her Nova TC coach George Taylor said, "She could see that there was no limit to what she could do after that."
Muhammad was getting her wish to travel, as she was sent over to the Czech Republic to represent the US in the World Youth Games in mid July. She scored her first world championship by running a 57.25 for the win. During the summer she picked up another honor as NY's Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year.
Senior year opened for Muhammad now with titles at the state, national, and world level, so what more could she accomplish for graduation? One thing she could do was to keep pushing the boundaries, and for her that meant trying the short 55H indoor hurdles and including the 800m as a standard distance on a Cardozo team that had the goods to do well there. A loss though to Boys and Girls in the 4x400m at Millrose ended a three-year reign.
At States Muhammad finished 4th in the 55H and the Cardozo 4x800m squad finished 4th in 9:28.37, but she again won the high jump at 5-9. The trip to the Armory for NSIC netted the Judges two national titles. In the SMR, Muhammad got passed on her 400m leg but then stormed back to open a big lead that Alison Lee ran away with in the 800m leg for a win at 4:03.16. Muhammad then anchored the 4x800m squad with a top 2:12.0 time to get the double relay win for Cardozo.
In the spring with the announcement having been made that Muhammad would be heading west to the University of Southern California to run for the Trojan track team in college, she kicked off a somewhat quieter senior season. She had another terrific battle with McAuley's Phyllis Francis in April at the Mayor's Cup meet and finished 2nd in the 800m with a time of 2:14.21. She followed a win at the Bernard meet in NJ in the 400H at 61.46 with a meet record at Loucks of 59.84. Although she won the PSAL high jump title, she did not compete in the event at States, and her focus was now on the 400H as the season ended. At States she got a big challenge from New Rochelle's Elizabeth Mott but still won the D1 race in 57.81 and the Federation race in 57.90. That appeared to end her high school career.
Muhammad's years at USC while she pursued a business degree had some successes. In the spring of her freshman year in 2009, she placed 2nd in the 400H in both the then PAC-10 conference and NCAA West regional before taking 3rd in NCAA Nationals, lowering her PR to 56.49. In July of 2009 she won the US Juniors title and went on to compete at the Pan American Games in Trinidad and Tobago and was 2nd. In her sophomore outdoor season she again did well in conference and NCAA regionals action with 2nds but did not make it out of prelims at Nationals. In her junior year in 2011 she once again placed 2nd in the Pac-10 championship and qualified for Nationals where she set a new PR of 56.04 in prelims and took 6th in finals.
2012 was Muhammad's senior year and it was also the year of the London Olympics. Hoping to win a spot on the US team, Muhammad started out the year by spending much more time competing in indoor season in the 60m hurdles. In the spring she built up her speed by competing in the 100m hurdles along with her old specialty the 400H. She finished 3rd in the now PAC-12 championship and 1st in the NCAA regional. Again she had her best time of the season of 56.19 in the semis round at Nationals before placing 5th in the finals. In late June though her first attempt at an Olympic qualification failed as she ran one of her slowest times of the year in the preliminary round of the US team trials.
Following graduation from USC, Muhammad turned pro, and she decided to up her commitment to her training as she eyed the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. While competing at a number of distances in sprints and hurdles, she continued to push her PR for the 400H in 2013 as she first started running under 55.0 and then winning the USATF championship in June with a time of 53.83. She had a busy August running in four major competitions including the IAAF World Championships at which she placed 2nd with a 54.09 time.
After a brilliant 2013 that had seen her go to new heights, Muhammad suffered through two years of setbacks in her training with injuries mixed in, and a 55.76 in the 400H and a 4th in the USATF championsip in 2015 was the best she could do. The Olympic year of 2016 brought renewed hope though as that dream of getting a spot on the US team began to move closer and Muhammad worked ferociously at her training. Building up her strength gradually and hitting a big PR of 52.64 in the 400m in May with a win at the Stanford Invitational, Muhammad was back below 55.0 in the 400H in June competitions and she hit the US team trials in July flying. A top time of 54.14 in the semifinal round sent her on to a new PR of 52.88 to win in finals. She said, "I had a dream when I was little and I didn't stop working at it until it came true."
Flying down to Rio in August for the Olympics were some special teammates on the US squad. As part of the trio of 400H women for the US team that included herself and the 2nd place US trials finisher Ashley Spencer was the teen phenom Sydney McLaughlin, about to enter her senior year at Union Catholic HS in NJ. McLaughlin' had run an extraordinary 55.63 time to win World Juniors as a freshman, lowered her PR to 55.28 and won World Juniors again as a sophomore, and in her junior year had run 54.46 to win New Balance Nationals and 54.15 to finish 3rd at US trials and set a world juniors record. Her trek to the Olympics added an extra buzz to the 400H. Another fellow Olympian was Benjamin Cardozo 2013 graduate Deajah Stevens who had finished 2nd for the University of Oregon in the 100m and 200m at NCAA Nationals in June and then qualified for the Olympics in the 200m in July. Though Muhammad and Stevens had not overlapped at Cardozo, the bond of the Judges' days was exciting to be sharing as the opening ceremonies started.
A more magical Olympics for Muhammad in the 400H was hard to imagine. Starting off with a 55.33 to win her preliminary heat, she then ran a 53.89 to set by far the best time in semifinals. Though McLaughlin's Olympics ended in the semis, Spencer won her section and moved on to the semis with Muhammad. On August 18th, 2016, the dream of Olympic gold came true on a somewhat soggy track as she rolled to a comfortable win at 53.13 in the final for the first American victory ever in the event. Spencer came up for a personal record to get the bronze. Over in the 200m, Deajah Stevens qualified for the finals and placed 7th. "This means so much; I've been working so hard for this," said Muhammad, who got off to a fast start. "I could tell I was in front but you never know in the 400 hurdles until you're right at the finish."
Muhammad and Stevens made a visit back to their old haunts in Queens and Benjamin Cardozo following the Olympics in September and were welcomed back as heroes at a ceremony in a packed auditorium. Asked about whether anyone but Cardozo could claim two Olympic track finalists, she said, "I think that's unheard of. I would like to know if there is any other school like that because I don't think there is."
In a sense, the Olympic gold just made Muhammad a little hungrier, as one thing she hadn't yet nailed down was a world record in the 400H. She wanted to be remembered she said, "As the best who ever did it" when asked what her legacy in the hurdles should be. But along with the drive to be the best, she stated that the reason for continuing on with her hurdling career was, "Because I really love to do it."
One thing on the return from Rio that Muhammad was not happy about as she continued her hurdling career after winning Olympic gold for the American team was the increasing climate of hostility she faced in this country as black Muslim athlete. In an increasing climate of racial tensions in the US, Muhammad had to try to fight through the negative comments that were sometimes directed at her as she pursued her dreams.
In 2017, she started to build for a shot a world record. In July she hit a new PR when the she won the USATF championship again in 52.64 in June, but a month later she was running a little further back as the was upset by fellow Ameican Kori Carter in the World IAAF championship while running a 53.50. 2018 was a bit of a wash as she suffered a concussion after a fall and cut back on her competitions.
2019 was to be another special year for Muhammad as she focused on the elusive 16-year-old world record of 52.34. She smashed it at the USATF championship with a 52.20. Then she went to the World IAAF championship in October in Doha and lowered her own mark a bit more with a time of 52.16 as the now University of Kentucky star Sydney McLaughlin finished a step back in 52.23. "It feels good to have it come together when it matters most," said Muhammad. Said McLaughlin of her teammate, "She's amazing. She's been doing this a long time, and I'm just constantly trying to learn from her."
Muhammad will be continuing to learn about her own potential for more amazing feats, but for now the future is a little bit on hold as the Olympics in Tokyo have been pushed back to 2021. She will be 31 years old then and likely to be facing a renewed challenge from the nine-years-younger McLaughlin. No one is likely to be betting against Muhammad though because she has fought through adversity and now stands alone as the top 400m hurdles champ of all time.
Before Muhammad began her exploits in the 2007 season, the NY state record had been held for 28 years by Sandra Farmer of St. Angela Hall Academy in Brooklyn, which closed in 1980. In her sophomore season of 1977, Farmer was the US Juniors champ, and two years later she flew out to Sacramento and set a World Juniors record with a 58.31 to win the race. Farmer ran at a time that the 400H was not yet an event at States, being added only in 1981. She set the record in only her second hurdles race of the 1979 season.