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March 28, 2017

The 400m hurdle American Record seems poised to fall, but who breaks it?

Lashinda Demus’s 2011 400m hurdle American Record of 52.47 set in Daegu, South Korea, is by no means a slouch of a mark. But it’s gotta be feeling the heat right about now from a slew of young and incredibly talented women, all of whom dedicate hours of their days to improving their ability to run one lap of the track as fast as they possibly can, leaping over 30” high hurdles along the way.

Let’s meet the athletes liable to shatter Demus’s American record.

At last summer’s Rio Olympics, American women took gold and bronze in the 400m hurdles, with Dalilah Muhammad winning in 53.13 and Ashley Spencer nabbing third in 53.72.

Muhammad was born in 1990 and Spencer in 1993. Though only in their mid-20s, that might as well make them the event’s elder stateswomen.

Muhammad’s run even faster than her gold medal time; her best of 52.88 comes from last year’s Olympic Trials and is the 10th fastest time ever run by an American. Spencer’s PB comes from that Rio final and though it’s over a second off of the current record, she should have plenty of opportunities to improve her mark in races with like-minded, record-vying women.

Thanks to a disappointing performance at the Trials, Shamier Little did not compete in Rio. But she ran the second fastest time by an American last year, 53.51, and held the world-leading mark heading into the Trials. She was born in 1995, left Texas A&M early to go pro and if the next woman I’ll mention wasn’t around, would surely be heralded as the rising star of the mclaughlin tweet

But alas, Sydney McLaughlin exists, and the hurdling wunderkind is more than just the pride of New Jersey, she’s probably the closest thing track has right now to a burgeoning superstar whose celebrity and appeal could transcend our niche sport. She made an Olympic team at 17 and her charisma and social media presence have only contributed to her popularity. She can juggle really, really, really well.

Her best time over the hurdles is 54.15, set at the Trials, but she’s already shown improvement this indoor season for the flat 400m, lowering her overall PB to 51.61. This definitely bodes well for her outdoor season when hurdles are reintroduced into the equation.

If the record falls in 2017, my money’s on Muhammad being the woman to lower it. A good rule of thumb is to never bet against the defending Olympic champion and Muhammad’s probably the purest hurdler of the bunch (her PRs for 400m with and without hurdles are the closest to each other). That said, the sprints tend to skew younger, so Spencer and her bronze medal could be just as well-positioned to break it.
Little and McLaughlin are young, but certainly on the upswing. Don’t expect either to run under 52.47 this season, but ahead of the 2020 Olympic cycle, it’s possible the record (presumably then lower than it is now) will be toast once again.

Oh, you thought I would just stop there? Surprise! Keni Harrison is the one name that shouldn’t be forgotten in all of the hurdle hoopla. She has only said that one of her career goals is to break every hurdles record. She already holds the world record in the 100-meter hurdles with her 12.20-second rebound from not making the Olympic team and instead breaking Yordanka Donkova’s 28-year-old mark. She holds a personal best of 54.09 in the 400 hurdles from her runner-up finish at the 2015 NCAA championship. She hasn’t run the event since. Keni Harrison wants to prove that she’s the greatest hurdler of all-time and that’s really exciting for the sport. She’s also only 24 so we have so many more years to enjoy watching her.

But the key takeaway here, is that given enough opportunities to compete against each other, there’s no telling how fast these four hurdlers will go. Sacramento’s notoriously a sweltering place in the summertime; a 10,000m-specialists nightmare, but ideal conditions for the sprints. Get these five women in the final, on a warm, windless day, into the blocks in the middle lanes, and we’re all in for a treat.

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