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With growth mindset, Dalilah Muhammad keeps striving for greatness

Muhammad, a two-time Olympic and World Championship gold medalist, has many more hurdles to climb. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In 2019, American hurdler Dalilah Muhammad shattered the world record in the 400m hurdles, not once but twice.

To break records of such a high caliber requires unrelenting competitiveness — especially in such a grueling event that entails clearing 10 hurdles. But when Muhammad isn’t bolting around a track, she considers herself to be pretty “chill.”

“A lot of times people see you on the track, and they think you’re this super competitive person,” she told Just Women’s Sports.

“But honestly, I think off the track, that would be the most surprising thing about me. I’m not the type of person that has to win at bowling or has to win at board games.”

There’s a time and a place for Muhammad’s competitiveness, like last summer when the defending champion in the 400m hurdles was gearing up for her second consecutive Olympic Games.

The then 31-year-old won gold in the event at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and was set for an epic showdown in Tokyo to defend her title. In the end, Muhammad finished the race in second place to teammate Sydney McLaughlin.

Not many knew the challenges Muhammad faced leading up to that blistering race, where she clocked 51.58, her fastest time ever, to win silver. She had nicked her hamstring twice, causing her to develop a slight limp, and dealt with two separate bouts of COVID-19, each time leaving her with severe symptoms that derailed her ability to train.

Muhammad achieved greatness despite such adversity. The key, she said, was a switch in her mental approach.

“I think for me, it was me telling myself to just have fun and try and see what happens,” she said. “I think just having that little flip in mindset really enabled me to push through and to see where I could take it.”

A native of Queens, New York, Muhammad began her track and field career at 7 years old. After seeing the youngster bounding down the city streets, a neighborhood track coach urged Muhammad’s mother, ​​Nadirah, to have her join his club team.

Opportunities for aspiring runners like Muhammad were plentiful within the borough, where there were multiple teams she could join and many local tracks available. “I can think of three tracks that are literally within a mile radius of where my actual apartment was,” she said.

Early on, Muhammad says she dipped her toe into as many sports as possible, including basketball, tennis, dance and swimming. But it was track and field that she loved the most.

“I definitely was the best at track and field,” she recalled of her younger self. “And I just felt like I had a gift, and I wanted to pursue that gift.”

Although she felt a unique magnetism toward the hurdles, Muhammad was encouraged by her coach to give many events a try — race walk, long jump, high jump, and even shot put and cross country.

“I always loved the hurdles. I always gravitated towards them,” she said. “I remember wanting to really nail the technique and really wanting to be good at it.”

It was no surprise when her love for hurdling blossomed in high school. With a solid endurance base, Muhammad was poised to excel in the 400m hurdles, an event only high-school level athletes in New York state could enter.

“I was one of those kids that couldn’t wait for the 400m hurdles,” she said. “I had enough speed, but I also had the distance background that a lot of 400m hurdles need.”

At Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, located in Bayside, a neighborhood of Queens, Muhammad says she began to push her limits and, in turn, took her athletic pursuits more seriously. In 2007, she won the IAAF World Youth title in the Czech Republic and was named New York State’s Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year. The following season, as a senior, she captured gold in both the New York State Championships and the Nike Outdoor Nationals.

During those teenage years, Muhammad realized her dream of earning a collegiate track and field scholarship was within reach. Several universities — including Oregon, Texas A&M, Florida State, South Carolina and USC — were chomping at the bit when Muhammad became eligible for recruitment. Eventually, she traded the East Coast for the West to attend USC.

“I thought that USC would have a nice balance of a good academic program and athletic program. That was really what sold it for me,” she said. “And you can’t beat the California weather.”

As a Trojan, Muhammad majored in business and became one of the leading 400m hurdlers in the nation. She earned All-American honors twice in the event and still ranks among the top 10 USC performers of all time.

In 2013, a year after graduating from USC, Muhammad was itching to make her first-ever World Championship team. After falling short in the preliminary round at the 2012 Olympic Trials, she was determined to make a comeback.

During that process, she developed a way to center herself while still taking everything in stride. It became just one word — her “power word.”

“I remember setting a goal and deciding, OK, the goal is to make this team, and let’s just find a word that puts it all into one line,” Muhammad said.

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At her first Olympics in Rio in 2016, Muhammad won gold in the 400m hurdles. (Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Rather than letting the pressure of reaching the world-class stage consume her, Muhammad repeated her power word again and again. Almost like a mini mantra, it began to work.

The performances that followed boosted her track profile and eventually led her to sign an endorsement deal with Nike. At the 2013 USA Outdoor Championships, she won her first national title in a new personal best to clinch her spot on the U.S. team. Unfazed by the global competition, Muhammad then blazed down the home straightaway at the World Championships in Moscow to earn a silver medal in the 400m hurdles.

Fast forward to this outdoor season. Muhammad, now 32, is dominating the elite hurdling scene. Just last month, at the Diamond League event in Birmingham, she comfortably cleared the final hurdle in first place with a time of 54.54. While she sat out of the USA Outdoor Championships this past weekend with a hamstring injury — where reigning Olympic gold medalist McLaughlin won in world-record time — Muhammad is set to compete in the 400m at worlds next month after receiving a bye as the defending champion.

“I think this has been one of my best seasons I’ve been having so far, in terms of how I’ve been practicing, and I’m a lot stronger,” Muhammad said.

Coached by Lawrence “Boogie” Johnson at the Athletic Performance Ranch in Forth Worth, Texas, Muhammad has been training with a new stacked roster of 16 women and men.

“They just bring so much life to training every single day, and having younger people to train with definitely keeps you motivated,” Muhammad said.

The group works out during the early mornings from Monday through Friday, and sometimes Saturday to beat the southern heat. At this point in the season, Muhammad says practices last about three hours — compared to the typical five — followed by a short break and then a weightlifting session in the gym.

“It’s that nice balance of being super proud of the people that you train with, and having them to push you, too,” she said.

While Muhammad shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, her future as a pro athlete has inevitably been on her mind. “I think it starts to play in your head — your age, and what the world is telling you,” she said.

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Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin, teammates and friends, are also each other's fiercest competitor. (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Now more than ever, athletes are pushing the limits of longevity to achieve peak performance past age 40. Muhammad looks up to 40-year-old tennis star Serena Williams, in particular.

“She, to me, is a huge figure of someone that really represented it,” Muhammad said. “She made it possible that you can have a really long career in sports.”

For the first time in history, the World Athletics Championships will take place on American soil at the magnificently renovated Hayward Field beginning July 15. The women’s 400m hurdles will be a headlining event in Eugene.

As of the end of May, Muhammad is ranked third in the world.

“I always felt joy the other years, but this year for me it’s even more so than the rest. I look forward to really racing and just kind of seeing what happens,” Muhammad said.

“My goal is definitely to bring home that win again and to defend that title. I’d like to break the record, too.”

Brenley Goertzen is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @BrenleyGoertzen.

The Women’s Cup Finalizes 2024 Tournament With Chile’s Colo Colo

Patricia Padium (L) of Brazils Audax/Corinthians, vies for the ball with Claudia Soto of Chile's Colo Colo during the Women Copa Libertadores final match
The addition of the Chilean side rounds out the Cup's four-team field. (FAVIO FALCON/AFP via Getty Images)

The Women’s Cup field has been finalized, with Chilean club Colo Colo joining the four-team field. 

Colo Colo will join Racing Louisville of the NWSL along with Italy's Juventus and Brazil's Palmeiras at Lynn Family Stadium in Louisville from August 9th through 13th. 

The tournament will have a $100,000 prize pool.

"We are honored to have Colo-Colo as the first Chilean Team to play in The Women’s Cup," said J.P. Reynal, CEO of The Women’s Cup, in yesterday's press release. "Women’s soccer has seen exponential growth in South America and having two of the best teams in the region participating in this year’s tournament is proof they can compete with the top teams from Europe and the United States."

"We are pleased to be considered in this important championship for women’s soccer and very proud that Colo-Colo is one of the most important exponents of this discipline in Chile," echoed Enzo Caszely, president of women’s football at Colo-Colo. "As a club, we have been pioneers in its professionalization at a national level, and this instance is proof of it."

Juventus and Colo-Colo will square off on Friday, August 9th at 5 PM ET followed by Racing Louisville and Palmeiras at 8 PM ET. Tickets can be purchased now via both The Women's Cup's and Racing Lousiville's websites.

This is Racing Louisville's third time featuring in the competition. The team won The Women's Cup's first iteration in 2021, beating German side FC Bayern in penalty kicks at Lynn Family Stadium. The Seattle Reign claimed The Women's Cup in 2022.

The Kansas City Current will also host a Women’s Cup tournament from August 14th through the 17th. The winners of each 2024 tournament will then face each other in the Global Series Finals, scheduled for February 2025.

PWHL Draft Spurs Controversy for League Champs Minnesota

pwhl draft first pick Sarah Fillier
PWHL New York kicked off the 2024 PWHL Draft by selecting Princeton's Sarah Fillier No. 1 overall. (PWHL)

The 2024 PWHL Draft took place on Tuesday, with Princeton and Canadian national team forward Sarah Fillier going first overall to PWHL New York. 

New York also added two defenders and a goaltender, as well as three forwards to make seven solid additions to next season's roster. 

But it was first-ever PWHL champions Minnesota that created the most buzz, with the draft happening just three days after they announced the abrupt departure of general manager Natalie Darwitz following a league review. 

With the 9th overall pick, PWHL Minnesota took Team USA forward Britta Curl. Fans immediately took to the internet to voice their concerns, citing Curl's social media activity. In the past, Curl had "liked" posts on X that targeted the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly transgender individuals. Her activity also showed support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Wisconsin man who shot three unarmed people, two fatally, during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest.

When asked about the pick — and whether or not he had consulted with any members of the LGBTQIA+ community prior to making the pick — PWHL Minnesota coach Ken Klee opted to defend Curl.

"Did I speak to anyone from the community? I talk with players, with coaches. That’s tough to answer for me," Klee said. "I spoke with a lot of different people. I mean, at the end of the day, I was told she’s a great teammate, a great person. She’s obviously a great player."

The team also had PWHL Minnesota assistant coach Mira Jalosuo, who is married to a woman, announce the pick.

"We have people in that community and obviously Mira making that selection for us, I think that speaks volumes for us," Klee added. "We were just trying to pick the best players available. I wouldn’t want anything to take away from any of those players' experience. It’s unfortunate a little bit at the beginning, but again, it’s okay. People are entitled to their opinion."

Washington Mystics Snap 12-Game Losing Streak

Brittney Sykes #20 of the Washington Mystics shoots the ball during the game against the Atlanta Dream during the 2024 WNBA Commissioner's Cup game on June 11, 2024
Washington guard Brittney Sykes returned from injury Tuesday night to post a game-high 18 points. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Washington Mystics snapped a team-record 12-game losing streak on Tuesday, taking home their first win of the season over the Atlanta Dream. 

Brittney Sykes returned from injury and made an immediate impact with game-high 18 points, four assists, and three rebounds. As a team, Washington shot over 50% from behind the arc.

"The feel is it's been coming," coach Eric Thibault said after the game. "I said the other night that we're turning into a good basketball team and we just haven't had the wins to show for it yet. We've been playing better basketball now for a while.

"We're obviously shooting well, but I think the quality of the shots we're getting is really good."

Still, the team’s slow start isn't exactly in the rearview mirror. With star forward Elena Delle Donne sitting this season out, the Mystics were always predicted to face an uphill climb in what has been described as a rebuilding year. 

But with a franchise-worst 0-12 record to kick off the 2024 season, the Mystics are likely on track for a lottery pick. However, Washington can point to positive performances from star draft pick Aaliyah Edwards and league newcomer Julie Vanloo.

Elsewhere in the WNBA, the Las Vegas Aces continued their skid with a surprising 100-86 upset courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx. The reigning WNBA champions were shorthanded this week, falling to 5-5 on the season despite MVP-level play from A'ja Wilson, who scored 28 points in Tuesday's loss.

Minnesota shot over 55% as a team, with Alanna Smith leading the team with 18 points. The game marked the Aces' first three-game losing streak since 2019.

"This is a long, long, long season," Wilson said in her postgame remarks. "I'm not going to press the panic button. I'm still going to bet on us. I know exactly what's in that locker room."

Aces stalwart Chelsea Gray has been out with injury since last year's WNBA Finals run. And while she told reporters on Tuesday that she's set to return before the Olympic break, the team can’t get her back soon enough as they continue to struggle with depth. 

"I don't want them thinking too much; then you get paralysis [by] analysis," coach Becky Hammon said. "We're just not being solid in our base. Just be solid defensively. We're not a very good team right now, that's just reality. But we know we can get better. I still have a lot of belief in this ball club."

USA Women’s Basketball Releases Olympic Roster, Explains Clark’s Omission

USA Women's Basketball's Diana Taurasi #12, Brittney Griner #15 and Sabrina Ionescu #6 at April's National Team Training Camp
All the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

USA Women's Basketball announced its official Olympic roster on Tuesday, with officials noting that Caitlin Clark’s lack of national team experience played a key role in her omission.

Selection committee chair Jen Rizzotti said that the committee evaluated players according to a set of on-court criteria they were given.

"When you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they checked a lot more boxes," she told reporters on Tuesday. "Then sometimes it comes down to position, style of play for [coach Cheryl Reeve] and then sometimes a vote."

Three first-time Olympians made the squad: Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu, and Kahleah Copper. Additionally, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum will make the switch to the national 5-on-5 team after winning gold in the inaugural 3×3 competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Age, Rizzotti said, was "never brought up" in player selection discussions. It’s the first time in Olympic history that a USA Women’s Basketball 5-on-5 team will travel to the Games without a single player under 26 years old.

Rizzotti commented that all the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience, something that Clark does not have.

"She's certainly going to continue to get better and better," USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley added. "Really hope that she's a big part of our future going forward."

Rizzotti said it would have been "irresponsible" to base roster decisions on anything outside of a basketball context. Marketing and popularity were not on the selection committee’s list of criteria. 

"It would be irresponsible for us to talk about her in a way other than how she would impact the play of the team," Rizzotti said. "Because it wasn't the purview of our committee to decide how many people would watch or how many people would root for the US. It was our purview to create the best team we could for Cheryl."

Clark expressed that she'll be using what some consider a snub as fuel for a run at the 2028 Olympic team. 

"I think it just gives you something to work for," Clark told media after practice Sunday. "It's a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there. I think it's just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" on Expert Adjacent

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