RIO DE JANEIRO (CBSNewYork) -- For years, Dalilah Muhammad was forced to operate under the radar. On Thursday night in Rio, she soared above everyone else.
Muhammad, a native of Queens, blitzed the rain-soaked field in the 400-meter hurdles final, become the first American woman to ever win gold in the event.
"I was just happy it was over and relieved to come out with a win. I'm so thankful,'' Muhammad said.
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The 26-year-old dominated the race from the start, pulling away over the final 200 meters to finish in 53.13, more than four-tenths faster than second-place Sara Petersen of Denmark.
It was more than a victory for Muhammad. It was a coronation of sorts, considering she had struggled with injuries and inconsistency over the previous two years.
"It's so exciting," Muhammad said. "This means so much; I've been working so hard for this. The last two years haven't been the best but to finally be where I'm supposed to be at the right time, and I'm so happy about that."
Muhammad said despite her dominant effort, she had to make some adjustments on the fly.
"I felt really good. I wanted to get out like I normally do and stick to my race plan that I've been working on all year,'' she said. "I had little hiccups in the race, but you have little hiccups in every race and no race is perfect. I just worked as hard as I could possibly work off the last hurdle."
A coaching change in February and improvements in her fitness contributed to Muhammad running the fastest time in the world this year during the U.S. Olympic trials. She didn't run as fast in Rio, but it was quick enough to put some serious distance between herself and everyone else.
"I just to remotivate myself to work harder," Muhammad said. "I worked as hard as I ever did in this last year and being so much more disciplined played a huge factor."
American Ashley Spencer earned the bronze on Thursday night.
"I didn't know Ashley had got third at the time," Muhammad said. "That she made it too and became an Olympic medalist, I'm so proud of her and of myself. We're making history out here, and I'm just so happy to be a member of that legacy."
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