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The 26-year-old Muhammad clocked 53.13 in steady rain to win by a margin of 0.42 from Denmark’s Sara Slott Petersen, with Ashley Spencer of the USA landing the bronze. Reigning world champion and London 2012 bronze medallist Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic finished just out of the medals in fourth.
Defying the damp conditions, Muhammad shot out of the blocks, rose quickest at the first hurdle and never looked in any danger of being overtaken, claiming a deserved gold by a comfortable margin. Having arrived in Rio as the fastest woman in the event this year, she was understandably elated at backing that form up with gold: “The reality of winning is even better than the dream. Olympic champion in front of my name. Being the first American to win this title adds a bit of extra sparkle.”
Muhammad, whose only previous major championship appearance came when she won silver in the event at the 2013 worlds in Moscow, added: “It’s my goal to be the first one over the first hurdle. I like to get out at the very beginning and stay out and keep it going. For me the rain really isn’t a factor. Everyone has to go through it. I was so focused and so in my zone that I didn’t even notice it.”
Muhammad’s win spelled yet more hurdle joy for the USA at Rio 2016, with Kerron Clement having won the men’s 400m earlier in the day, and Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin completing an American one-two-three in the 100m on 17 August.
“USA is really strong in the hurdles,” said Muhammad, explaining their success. “Two of my teammates I train with side by side every day. We have the same coach, and doing it that way really pushes me. I trained with all three of the 100m hurdlers at one time. This is just one of those events we excel at because of the work we all put into it.”
After running 53.55 to win silver, European champion Petersen said: “I don’t think I have the words. I was hoping so bad for this. I didn’t have the courage to believe. But I felt great on the warm-up track and I just had a feeling it might be my night.
In taking third, Spencer recorded a personal best of 53.72, justifying her decision to devote all her energies to hurdling this season. “I really didn’t go in with any expectations,” said the 23-year-old American. “I just wanted to have fun. I have looked forward to this moment all my life. I had nothing to lose. I came out here to have fun, and I had so much fun and won an Olympic medal.”