Tuesday, 04 April 2017 07:42

Eugene: Muhammad's Gold Brings Spotlight to Pre Classic Women's 400 Hurdles

Written by Diamond League
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Dalilah Muhammad - Prefontaine Classic - PhotoRun.net Dalilah Muhammad - Prefontaine Classic - PhotoRun.net
AMERICA'S first Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 400-meter hurdles returns to the Prefontaine Classic in the meet’s best-ever field in the event. The superb collection includes not only every Olympic medalist from Rio, but also the two-time defending World Champion and the reigning IAAF Diamond League winner.

Dalilah Muhammad is highest on the list. The 27-year-old New York native made history last summer in Brazil, reaching the top step of the Olympic podium in an event where every American record holder since 1984 could only claim silver at best.

Muhammad made the Olympic team a month earlier with a lifetime best of 52.88, a Hayward Field record and the best ever by an American on U.S. soil. Her PR was nearly a full second better than when she won her first U.S. title in 2013, the year she earned the silver medal at Moscow in the World Championships. She is the fourth-fastest American all-time, 0.41 seconds behind AR holder Lashinda Demus, a former training partner and Pre Classic record holder at 53.03.

Muhammad last competed at the Pre Classic in 2014, before experiencing two years strained by injury. Muhammad was a four-time All-American at USC and her first victory at Hayward Field came as a freshman at the 2009 U.S. Junior championships. A gold medal in the 2007 World Youth Championships was her first presence on the international scene.

Zuzana Hejnova is the fastest in the field (52.83) and has the field’s most major golds (2), major medals (3), and Diamond League Trophies (2). The 30-year-old Czech is the two-time defending World gold medalist, taking titles in Moscow (2013) and Beijing (2015) to mirror her winning Diamond League Trophies the same year. The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist was 4th in Rio.

Hejnova won the 2013 Pre Classic and was 4th in the deep 2011 race. She has ranked among the T&FN Top 10 in seven of the last eight years and has held her country’s national record since she was 19 years old, running 55.83 in 2006. She first made major international news in 2003 with a World Youth Championships gold.

Sara Petersen earned the Olympic silver medal in Rio, the first by a Danish-born athlete in track & field. She will turn 30 on April 9 and her race at the Pre Classic is scheduled to her first in the U.S. The reigning European champion set her best of 53.55 at Rio and has held the Danish record since 2007, when she ran 57.01 as a 20-year-old.

Ashley Spencer, 23, was the Rio Olympic bronze medalist in her first full year devoted to the event. She was primarily a 400-meter runner in college, two years at Illinois followed by two at Texas. As a freshman in 2012 Spencer was the first yearling since Sanya Richards-Ross in 2003 to win the NCAA outdoor title, and she continued that summer to gold at the World Junior championships.

As a soph in 2013, Spencer added NCAA indoor and outdoor 400 titles, ran on the U.S. silver-medal winning 4x400 team in the World Championships and ranked No. 10 in the world by Track & Field News. Spencer found herself back on the world stage early in 2016 with a silver (400) and gold (4x400) at the World Indoor Championships in Portland. She is coached by Tonja Buford-Bailey, the third-fastest American ever at 52.62 and – like Spencer – an Olympic bronze medalist (1996).

Cassandra Tate, 26, is the reigning Diamond League Trophy winner, the first American in this event. Though she missed making the tough U.S. Olympic team last summer, her 2016 season was strong enough to rank her No. 3 in the world by T&FN – she is the only American to rank in the Top 10 in each of the last three years.

Tate was also the bronze medalist at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, and her lifetime best of 54.01 was set at Hayward Field in the 2015 U.S. Championships. She won the 2012 NCAA title while at LSU and anchored the U.S. to gold in the 4x400 at the 2014 World Indoor Championships.

Shamier Little, 22, was a 3-time NCAA Champion for Texas A&M, and the silver medalist from the 2015 World Championships. The 2014 World Junior Champion, Little finished second to Hejnova in the Beijing World Championships and ranked No. 2 in the world byTrack & Field News in 2015. After the disappointment of not making the 2016 Olympic team, Little ended last season on a high note, winning the IAAF Diamond League Final in Zurich.

Janieve Russell, 23, is Jamaica’s youngest Olympic finalist ever in this event in Rio at 22 (7th). She was ranked No. 7 in the world by T&FN after a No. 8 in 2015, when she made the World Championships final (5th). Russell won the 2012 World Junior gold medal. She is set to run her first Pre Classic, but her racing experience in the U.S. includes eight straight years at the Penn Relays (high school for Holmwood Tech, college for University of Technology).

South Africa’s Wanda Theron Nel, 28, is the 2016 and 2014 African Championships gold medalist, and the 2017 Pre Classic will be her first meet on U.S. soil. She has ranked among the Top 10 in the world by T&FN in each of the last three years. Nel made the semifinals in Rio last year after being a finalist in 2015 at the Beijing World Championships.

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