Dalilah Muhammad admits that ending 2019 as the World Athlete of the Year wasn’t something she expected at its outset. Certainly not in mid-July, when a freak accident during a routine training session nearly ended her season just as it was getting underway.
Muhammad was running some speed drills, she said, when a minor misstep dropped her head-first on to to the track. She landed with a hard, heavy thud.
“I bumped my head pretty hard but I jumped right back up,” she said. “I just walked into the bathroom and I looked at myself in the mirror. My coach came in there with me, asking, 'Are you ok?’ I said, 'Yeah, I'm fine.’ But the second I stepped back out into the light, I had absolutely no idea where I was. I was asking him and my training partners, 'Where are we?' And at that point they knew something was clearly wrong."
She was rushed to a hospital where she was diagnosed with a minor concussion. That was ten days before the opening round of the 400m hurdles at the national championships where she needed to finish in the top three to earn her way on to the team bound for the World Championships in Doha.
But she recovered quickly. Eleven days later she smashed the world record with a stunning 52.20 run at those championships, eclipsing the 52.34 mark Yulia Pechonkina set in 2003 when Muhammad was just a 13-year-old middle schooler in Queens, New York. As it turned out, that race was just the prelude to her sensational season.