Sydney McLaughlin broke the world record in the 400 meter hurdles

Sydney McLaughlin broke the world record in the 400 meter hurdles


EUGENE, Ore. — On Wednesday night, Edwin Moses meandered to the warm-up track as the women prepared for the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles, the race that made him one of the most indomitable champions in track and field history. He watched Sydney McLaughlin walk across the field with a scowl on his face. “That gladiator look that I used to have,” Moses called it. Bobby Kersee, McLaughlin’s trainer and his good friend, approached him.

“Bobby, your girl is doing very, very well,” Moses said.

“Hey, after chasing you all these years, I learned a little about the event,” Kersee replied.

Moses took the comment as a high compliment. Kersee once coached athletes who tried in vain to conquer Moses in the 1970s and 1980s when he won 122 consecutive 400m hurdles over 10 years.

“He’s put everything he learned from coaching guys to beat me and put it into her,” Moses said. “She has absorbed everything.”

After decades of searching, Kersee found an athlete who might one day challenge the feats of Moses — or of any other runner who has ever strapped on a pair of track spikes. On Friday night during the world championships, McLaughlin radically reset the world record she has been playing with for the past year, separating herself even further from a pack that had long lost sight of her, elevating the Hayward Field track into a kind of fantasyland.

At the start of 2021, no woman had run once around a track and over 10 hurdles faster than 52 seconds. McLaughlin has broken the record four times since then. She lowered it to 50.68 as the sun set over the gleaming stadium, breaking the record by a staggering 0.73 seconds.

McLaughlin’s time would have beaten two women in Friday’s 400-meter final. The one without obstacles. On NBC, analyst Ato Bolden immediately hailed it as the best track and field performance he had ever seen. In the formula World Athletics uses to assess points in all events from the pole vault to the throws, McLaughlin’s 50.68 ranked second to Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 100m record.

“It’s a state of flux,” McLaughlin said. “Just putting everything you’ve done in practice into the race, to the point where you just let your body do what it does. You are not overthinking. You are only releasing the gifts and talents that God has given you.”

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Just 22 years old, McLaughlin lives on a higher plane within her event. Even at a meet where Noah Lyles shook one of Usain Bolt’s records and Athing Mu cemented his supremacy over the 800 meters, McLaughlin is not behind anyone in the US track and field hierarchy.

“She is the prototype for the event,” Moses said.

McLaughlin has already set his sights on new worlds to conquer. She revealed that she and Kersee have discussed moving to a new event – ​​the 400m or 100m hurdles – or even adding an event and trying to get a double individual medal. The schedule for the 2023 World Championships and the 2024 Paris Olympics would allow her to run both the 400m hurdles and the 400m flat.

“Bobby is always coming up with new ideas, so it’s hard to find one,” McLaughlin said. “It’s about doubles, it’s about switching. Honestly, I have no idea. It’s something we’ll go home to after the season, discuss, see what we want to do.”

If McLaughlin advances, she made her last major 400m hurdles an ode to the event. Starting in lane 5, McLaughlin took everyone up on her outside by the middle of the backstretch. Around the second turn she had passed everyone. By the time the final turn came, she had already turned it into a blowout. After she cleared the final hurdle, a patch of brick-red track separated her from Dutch Femke Bol and American bronze medalist Dalilah Muhammad, the friendly rival whose record McLaughlin took at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year and never looked back.

“I definitely thought 50 was possible,” Muhammad said. “After that race, I think 49 is possible.” She stopped. “For Sydney.”

Already a two-time Olympic gold medalist, McLaughlin has now become a world champion in a way those steeped in the sport could barely fathom. Afterwards, McLaughlin sat on the court in the back, legs burning, mouth agape, processing what she had done.

“So many times the race goes by and you forget what’s going on,” McLaughlin said. “I really just wanted to sit there for a moment and soak it all in.”

As McLaughlin further cemented her status as a legend, another surprise return. A week after announcing she had run her last race as the United States won bronze in the 4×400 mixed relay at the start of the world championships, Allyson Felix will come out of short-term retirement to run in Saturday’s opening round of the women’s 4×400 relay. , a USA Track and Field spokesperson said.

Friday night belonged to McLaughlin. She made the 2016 U.S. Olympic team as a 16-year-old, slated for greatness from the moment she took to the hurdles in Dunellen, NJ. In 2019, however, she still had not surpassed Muhammad, who set the world record while beating McLaughlin at the world championships.

During the pandemic layoff, McLaughlin switched coaches to Kersee, a legendary figure who has coached his wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Griffith Joyner and Felix. Kersee is unconventional and notoriously demanding. He instructed McLaughlin to watch old film of Moses, and switched her cadence from 15 to 14 steps between hurdles. He entered her in the 60- and 100-meter hurdles early in the season.

“Bobby welcomes people who want to come into camp knowing who they’re coming to deal with,” said Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who has become a mentor to McLaughlin. “He’s not going to change for any person. If you’re going to work with Bobby, you have to take all the good and all the bad that comes with it.”

Dominant and telegenic, McLaughlin has been reticent to embrace celebrity. She married short-time NFL wide receiver Andre Levrone Jr. this spring, which she documented extensively on social media. Otherwise, she shares little of herself publicly beyond athletic brilliance and devotion to her faith.

“I’ve been given a gift and a platform, but it’s not for my own glory,” McLaughlin said. “It’s helped me stay away from a lot of things that could get me into trouble. … I limit my social media. I limit how much I am on those things. Because at the end of the day, they can’t help me when I get on that line.”

McLaughlin glows in the blocks. She rarely shows emotion on the track, even after crossing the finish line. A lane over Friday night, Muhammad smiled and waved to the crowd as he was introduced. As McLaughlin’s name blossomed over the public address to raucous cheers, she stared at the ground, face unchanged.

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“She doesn’t mess around,” Moses said. “She sees, but she does not see. I can tell. Her mind is so focused she could see right through you. That’s how I was. I didn’t give up.”

400 meter hurdles is a race for navigating landmines. Moses saw the course as an opportunity to make 31 mistakes – taking off and then taking off, flying and landing over all 10 hurdles. Runners rarely stumble over hurdles, but any lapse in form can doom a competitor. McLaughlin has the athleticism to jump off both feet, and her strength and speed make her incredibly effective. She makes a complicated race seem easy.

“It doesn’t look like she’s moving that fast,” Moses said. “Sydney looks like she hardly does any work at all.”

McLaughlin took all the drama out of her race, but in the women’s javelin final, American Kara Winger made up for it. On her sixth and final throw, after exhorting the home crowd, Winger unleashed a throw of 64.05 meters (210 ft 1 in) that catapulted her from fifth to second. Winger’s tremendous heave earned American women medals in all four throwing events. At 36, Winger saw his last throw in a major championship deliver his first medal.

As McLaughlin took her event to new heights, Michael Norman returned to his in the 400. Norman won gold with a tough final sprint, edging a crowded field in 44.29 seconds. Around the last corner, Norman himself sprinted with Grenadian Kirani James, Great Britain’s Matt Hudson-Smith and South African world record holder Wayde van Niekerk. Norman managed a small lead and held them all off, raising his arms above his head.

“I just want to thank all the people who have followed me through the last three years,” Norman said.

Norman became one of America’s best and most promising sprinters in 2019, passing Jeremy Wariner as the fourth fastest man ever in 43.45 seconds. But he lost the US Championship that year to Fred Kerley and failed to make the World Championship finals with an injury. In Tokyo, Norman entered as favourite, but finished in a disappointing fifth place before salvaging the Olympics by winning gold in the 4×400 relay. Still only 24, Norman is once again on top of the world.

It was a good night for the American men who ran once around the track. Adding to its debacle-laden history in Tokyo, the U.S. men’s 4×100 team — Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Elijah Hall and Marvin Bracy-Williams — clocked a lap of 37.87, the fastest time in the world this year , in an initial round. In a display of their chemistry, Lyles afterward led them in an impromptu group rap of Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares.”

“Nice day at the office,” said Williams-Bracy. “We’re just having fun.”

The show stopped when McLaughlin entered the blocks. She is only 22. She is a gold medalist and world champion, an athlete who operates at a level few of her peers can imagine, let alone know. She can expand her athletic horizons or continue to push her specialty into new limits or both. She has achieved greatness so young and yet she is still dissatisfied.

“I think there’s still more to go,” McLaughlin said. “I think we all find that yes, there are 10 barriers, but we can run them a lot faster than people think. There is no such thing as a perfect race.”

It may be so. But almost no one has come closer than Sydney McLaughlin, the 22-year-old who has it all and still wants more.

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