World champion hurdler Dalilah Muhammad overcame COVID, injuries and illness to win gold and silver at the Tokyo Olympics.
In the world of track and field, everyone loves the sprinter. Being deemed the fastest person alive is all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. But running hurdles takes not only speed but stamina, balance and grace—and in the world of hurdling, Dalilah Muhammad is one of the best. The Queens, N.Y., native won a gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles at her Olympic debut in Rio in 2016. In July 2019, she would break the 16-year world record at the U.S. outdoor championship. Months later, she would break her own world record at the world track and field championships, where she held off a young upstart named Syndey McLaughlin. Their rivalry would become one of the highlights of the Tokyo Olympics. As Muhammad told the Los Angeles Times: "I'm definitely being chased." While training for Tokyo Olympics, Muhammad would be sidelined by a hamstring injury, COVID and an eye condition that caused her to lose vision in her left eye. But she would fight through the adversity to win silver in the 400m hurdles (McLaughlin—who, at 22, is too young for this list—won gold). Muhammad would also win gold as part of the 4x400m relay team, which helped fellow 2021 The Root 100 honoree Allyson Felix become the most decorated American track and field athlete of all time. Though the struggle was real, Muhammad made the best of her moment, telling Refinery29, "I was just trying to have a positive attitude throughout it all. But it taught me to stay focused. Deal with what you're dealing with in a moment, but know that you'll heal from it."