June 25 (Reuters) - Reigning Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad cruised through the first round of the 400-metre hurdles on Friday, setting up a showdown with world silver medallist Sydney McLaughlin at the U.S. trials, as six-time gold medallist Allyson Felix reached the 200m final.
The world record holder Muhammad looked relaxed as she seized an early lead and never let up under hot and sunny conditions at Eugene, Oregon’s Hayward Field, where temperatures reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius), clinching her heat in 55.51 to win by more than one and a half seconds.
“I just wanted to get out, set the race up, set my rhythm up and just kind of do enough to just kind of make it home,” said Muhammad, 31, the 2019 World Champion.
She will compete in Saturday’s semi-finals against a strong slate of contenders including 21-year-old McLaughlin, who posted the event’s fastest time of 54.07 and is coached by Felix’s coach, Bob Kersee.
Felix, who had already punched her ticket to Tokyo for a fifth Olympics in the 400m, finished second in her 200m semi-final heat in 22.20, earning a spot in Sunday’s final alongside 24-year-old Gabby Thomas, who put up a world-leading 21.94.
“I was way out there so I really had to run the good curve and give myself a chance,” said Felix, who competed from lane 9 and has said this would be her last Olympic trials.
But while 35-year-old Felix’s performance caught the eye, it was a teenager who stole the show in the first round of the men’s 200m, as Erriyon Knighton, 17, clinched it in 20.04, weeks after he toppled eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt’s junior record.
World champion Noah Lyles claimed a second-best 20.19 finish, after failing to make the cut in the 100m sprint.
Reigning world champion Grant Holloway easily clinched the first round of the men’s 110m hurdles, besting the field in a blistering 13.11, with 2019 U.S. outdoor champion Daniel Roberts finishing second in 13.22.
Reigning Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz, 31, powered into Sunday’s final in the men’s 1500m, winning his heat in 3:42.96, while teen phenom Hobbs Kessler’s attempt to reach Tokyo ended after he finished 19th.
In the day’s two finals, 2016 Olympian Mason Finley clinched the men’s discus with a 63.07-metre throw, while Hillary Bor, the 2019 U.S. outdoor champion in the 3200m steeplechase, broke away down the final stretch to win the 3000m steeplechase men’s final in 8:21.34.
Nineteen-year-old Athing Mu kept her stellar professional debut going, winning her semifinal heat in the women’s 800m in 1:59:31 - the fastest time in the event on Friday - while Kate Grace, 32, finished in 1:59.43 and U.S. record holder Ajee Wilson finished 1:59.49.
The trio will compete Sunday in a stacked finale that includes Raevyn Rogers, 24, who picked up a World Championships silver in Doha in 2019, and 2014 indoor champion Chanelle Price.
“This year’s a lot more clustered, a lot more women are around the same times,” said Wilson, 27. “It’s a coin toss depending on what day it is on who’s coming out on top. We’re super consistent and it’s an amazing field.”
Rai Benjamin - son of famed cricketer Winston Benjamin and a silver medallist at the 2019 World Championships - dominated his heat in the men’s 400m with a 48.61-second performance, the second-fastest time in the semifinal round behind Kenny Selmon, 24, who finished a tenth of a second faster. (Reporting by Amy Tennery, additional reporting by Gene Cherry; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)