Dalilah Muhammad, who ran the fastest time in the women’s 400-meter hurdles this year, won the gold medal in the finals at the Rio Olympics on Thursday night. The race started at 9:15 p.m. ET and also included fellow American Ashley Spencer. The 26-year-old Muhammad was favored to win the race in Rio, especially after winning her heat and having the best time in the semifinals. She became the first American woman ever to win gold in the event.
Here’s a look at Muhammad’s life and career.
1. Her Parents Credit Her Muslim Faith for Giving Her the Drive to Make It All the Way to Rio
Her parents, Nadirah and Askia Muhammad, told NY1 earlier this month that Muhammad’s Muslim faith, along with her discipline and talent, has been instrumental in her reaching the Olympics.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much work that goes into producing an Olympic athlete,” Askia Muhammad told NY1.
Muhammad’s parents are in Rio to cheer for her. “I can’t really describe the emotions because we have never felt these emotions before. But yet at the same token, I have always felt that my daughter had the ability,” Askia Muhammad added.
2. Her Performance at the Olympic Trials in July Was the First Time Anyone Ran the 400-Meter Hurdles in Under 53 Seconds in Three Years
Muhammad’s performance at the Olympic Trials in July in Eugene, Oregon didn’t just set a personal best record. Her time of 52.88 seconds was the fastest time of the year and the first time a runner has finished in under 53 seconds since 2013.
In fact, Muhammad owns three of the five best times in the world this year. She ran in 53.89 seconds during the Rio semifinals and 53.90 in London on July 22. The second-fastest time of the year was Shamier Little’s 53.51 run in Eugene.
3. Muhammad Failed to Break 58 Seconds in 2014 & Continued to Struggle in 2015 With Injuries
The previous two years were not kind to Muhammad. After gaining international attention by winning silver in the 400m hurdles at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, she failed to live up to her potential in 2014. As FloSports points out, she only ran in too 400m hurdles that year and didn’t finish in under 58 seconds in either race.
She started off 2015 better, but suffered an injury after the Oxy Invitational. She told FloSports:
I was like, ‘OK, I’m on pace with where I was in 2013.’ I was so happy because my 2014 season was terrible… But after that race, I noticed my quad was sore. And then the next week, it got progressively worse. I don’t know what I did in that race that hurt it, but in a week, I was unable to run at all.
Other races in 2015 didn’t go as well as Muhammad had hoped, so she realized she needed a change in coaching. She left coach Yolanda Demus and joined coach Lawrence Johnson in February 2016. She told FloSports that she wanted to “stimulate my mind in a different environment.” Other athletes Johnson coaches includes Kristi Castlin and Brianna Rollins.
However, Demus’ role in Muhammad’s life mustn’t be underestimated. After she was disappointed by not making the Olympic team for London, she signed up with Demus and her career took off. She also trained with Demus’ daughter, Lashinda Demus, who won silver in London.
“She really studies the sport to perfect it,” Muhammad told Spikes in 2013 of Demus. “She’s able to look at what we are doing wrong and come up with a drill to correct it. My back end of the race was my weakness, but she introduced a lot of short recovery sessions to really help that back end.”
4. Muhammad Is One of 44 USC Trojans Athletes Competing in Rio
The University of Southern California proudly boasts that it has 44 athletes who attended the university competing for 21 different countries in Rio. Before the Rio Games, USC students have won 288 medals and has at least one gold in every Olympics since 1912.
Muhammad attended USC from 2008 to 2012. She chose USC over Texas A&M, Miami, South Carolina and Florida State.
“At first (the distance) was what I was most against and the fact that they didn’t’ have that many indoor meets,” Muhammad told MileSplit NY in 2008 after making her decision public. “It’s not like you can go home as much as maybe a school on the East Coast. It’s something that you have to adjust to. I’m think I’m ready to get out of the house anyway.”
While at USC, she won the 2009 USA Junior Championship and was runner-up at the 2009 PanAm Junior Championships. She also won bronze at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
During high school, she won the 2007 World Youth Championship in the Czech Republic.
5. Muhammad Began Running When she was Only 7 Years Old & Her Mom Didn’t Want Her to Run in the Hurdles
When she was only 4 years old, the NY Novas Track Club saw Muhammad’s long jumps and expressed interest in her future. She joined the club when she turned 7, but her mother told NY1 that she at first didn’t want her daughter running in the hurdles.
“I said to the coach, ‘My baby cannot be in these hurdles. She is going to hurt herself,'” Nadirah Muhammad told the site. Eventually though, Muhammad’s coaches convinced her mother that she would be great at hurdles.
Her sister, Jamillah Muhammad, told NY1 that Muhammad always ran around their house when she was little. “She would start here and then run into her room and then do like a backwards jump over the broom and onto the bed,” Jamillah said.