EUGENE, Oregon – All three of the Olympic medalists from Rio are just the beginning of a deep women’s 400-meter hurdles race at the Prefontaine Classic. The 44th Pre Classic, a member of the IAAF Diamond League of elite international track & field meets, will be held May 25-26 at historic Hayward Field.
In fact, every confirmed entrant owns at least one major medal and collectively the field is already deeper than last year’s exceptional Pre Classic line-up.
The race will include at least three from a wildly talented American stable that last year saw six PR under 54 seconds in the national championships.
Dalilah Muhammad, 28, won that crazy U.S. championships race last summer, part of a season capped by her first IAAF Diamond League trophy. The summer before, the New York native reached the top step of the Olympic podium in Rio to become America’s first gold medalist in an event the U.S. annually dominates.
Muhammad’s 52.64 in that historic U.S. race was her fastest since 2016, when she made her first Olympic team with a lifetime best of 52.88, a still-standing Hayward Field record.
It was nearly a full second better than when she won her first U.S. title in 2013, the year she earned the silver medal at Moscow in the World Championships. She has the oldest Hayward Field victory among the entrants – in 2009 she won the U.S. Junior (U20) title as a freshman at USC.
Ashley Spencer, 24, won last year’s loaded Pre Classic in a PR 53.38 – nearly half a second faster than what she ran in Rio with a sensational homestretch finish to earn the bronze medal in her first full year devoted to the event.
She lowered her PR again to 53.11 at the U.S. Championships, but the fastest 4th-place finish ever was only good enough to be the world’s best alternate for the World Championships. No one from another country ran faster than her 53.11 last year.
Spencer was formerly a 400-meter runner, winning the 2012 World Junior (U20) gold as well as NCAA titles as an Illinois freshman and sophomore, the latter with her still-standing PR of 50.28 at Hayward Field in 2013. In 2016, she earned silver at the World Indoor Championships in Portland.
In late March, Spencer won her 3rd-straight Texas Relays in 56.43, her fastest opener yet.
Shamier Little, 23, has won at Hayward Field more often than anyone else in the field, almost always with a lifetime best. She captured the 2014 World Junior (U20) gold and 2015 U.S. title while carving a dominating collegiate career at Texas A&M, winning three NCAA crowns (2014-16) in Eugene.
Last year she was 2nd to Spencer at the Pre Classic and Muhammad at the U.S. championships, setting PRs both times.
As a 20-year-old, the Kentucky native who grew up in Chicago, was the fastest U.S. 400-meter hurdler of any age in 2015, winning every race except the Beijing World Championships, where she earned silver. She returned to the Track & Field News world rankings last year at No. 4.
Her flat 400 PR of 50.40, set last year, is 2nd-fastest in the field behind Spencer’s 50.28. Both were part of a U.S. team that won the Texas Relays in 3:26.16, fastest in the world outdoors this year.
No one in the field can claim more major golds than Zuzana Hejnová, 31, of the Czech Republic. She won the 2015 and 2013 World Championships and repeated with Diamond League trophies in both seasons.
The London Olympic bronze medalist, Hejnová was just inches from another medal in Rio and finished just behind Muhammad at last year’s Diamond League final.
Hejnová won the 2013 Pre Classic. Her No. 3 T&FN world ranking in 2017 was her eighth Top 10 since 2008, and she has held her country’s national record since she was 19 years old, running 55.83 in 2006. She first made major international news in 2003 with a World Youth Championships (U18) gold.
Ristananna Tracey, who will turn 26 on May 9, is Jamaica’s fastest in this field, clocking 53.74 to earn bronze last summer at the London World Championships. She was already a three-time World Championships veteran before taking 5th at the Rio Olympics with her previous PR of 54.15.
Janieve Russell, 24, is Jamaica’s youngest Olympic finalist ever in this event with a 7th in Rio at 22. Last year she repeated her No. 7 T&FN world ranking after a No. 8 in 2015, when she made the World Championships final (5th) as a 21-year-old. Russell won the 2012 World Junior gold medal.
Sara Petersen earned the Olympic silver medal in Rio, the first by a Danish-born athlete in track & field. The reigning European champion, 31, set her best of 53.55 at Rio and has held the Danish record since 2007, when she ran 57.01 as a 20-year-old.
Women’s 400-Meter Hurdles Personal Best
Dalilah Muhammad (USA) 52.64
Shamier Little (USA) 52.75
Zuzana Hejnova (Czech Republic) 52.83
Ashley Spencer (USA) 53.11
Sara Petersen (Denmark) 53.55
Ristananna Tracey (Jamaica) 53.74
Janieve Russell (Jamaica) 53.96