Tokyo 2020: More 400m hurdle magic from Sydney McLaughlin

American smashes world record as she takes gold ahead of compatriot Dalilah Muhammad

To get from the Tokyo Equestrian Park to the Olympic Stadium there is an underground tunnel which seems to go on forever and about halfway through I told my taxi driver to make it snappy.

There is nothing more memorable or spectacular in this city than seeing an Olympic champion being crowned for the first time, and Wednesday night inside the Olympic Stadium promised and delivered plenty of that.

It ended with the Canadian runner Andre De Grasse winning the men's 200 meters title which for the last three editions of the Olympics had belonged to Usain Bolt, and believe me De Grasse deserved it.

The 26-year-old was second behind Bolt in Rio 2016, and also finished third here in the 100m on Sunday night, so this was his crowning moment in every sense, De Grasse also running a national record of 19.62. Pretty damn fast.


Behind him came two Americans, Kenny Bednarek winning silver with a lifetime best of 19.68, Noah Lyles third in 19.74. The third American Erriyon Knighton, still only 17, also sent sub-20 with 19.93 for fourth. Remember the name.

Like Bolt, David Rudisha is also absent from Tokyo and not likely to race again at this level, which meant one thing. Could another Kenyan runner pick up the 800m title he won in London and Rio?

Actually Kenya finished first and second, Emmanuel Korir beating Ferguson Rotich in the sprint for the line, winning in 1:45.06, which may sound pedestrian compared to the 1:40.91 that Rudisha ran to win in London, that still untouchable world record, but it was a hard race nonetheless.

Poland’s Patryk Dobek, only a recent covert to 800m after previously running the 400m hurdles, took bronze in 1:45.39.

Truth is, and just like the day before, the finest hour was reserved for morning session and the women's 400m hurdles showdown between US rivals Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad.

Anything Karston Warholm did on Tuesday, McLaughlin did likewise, only this time fighting back from what appeared a losing position behind Muhammad in the final straight to win the gold medal in 51.46 seconds, smashing her own world record of 51.90 set a few weeks earlier at the US Olympic Trials.

As in the men’s event on Tuesday Muhammad also ran under the world record but couldn’t win the race, clocking 51.48 to take silver.

Dutch star Femke Bol ran a European record 52.03 to win bronze, the fourth-fastest time ever: like the men’s race this was one for ages, the best women’s hurdles race ever.

“What a great race,” said McLaughlin, still only 21, and who admitted to turning off all social media platforms to help her focus. “I’m just grateful to be out here celebrating that extraordinary race and representing my country. I saw Dalilah ahead of me with one to go, I just thought: ‘Run your race’. The race doesn’t really start until hurdle seven.”

For Muhammad, the 31-year-old reigning world champion, there was little consolation after also running inside the old world record: “After the ninth hurdle, I thought: ‘I’m about to win this.’ I can’t really get it straight in my head yet, I’m sure I’ll process it and celebrate later.

“Just like the men’s race, all three of our times would have won any Olympics, any other year. I’m so proud to be part of that history and even more proud of my teammate Sydney. I’m just happy it’s a one-two final for USA and today I’m happy with second.”

There were properly agonising scenes in the heptathlon 200m as British World champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson pulled up with what appeared to be an aggravation of her achilles injury. She fell to the ground but got back up and jogged to the finish line, only to find herself disqualified. Games over.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics