EUGENE, Ore. – In the hurdle world before Sydney McLaughlin, it took years to shave split seconds off records, and winning races didn’t always mean rewriting history.
This once-in-a-lifetime athlete is erasing that mindset as fast as she’s destroying the records she keeps setting.
McLaughlin, 22, set the world record for the fourth time in 13 months. On Friday, she ran the 400-meter hurdles at the World Championships in 50.68 seconds. She undercut her old mark by 0.73 seconds, a ridiculous number for a race of this distance and a time that had taken the world before McLaughlin 33 years to trim.
“It’s unreal,” McLaughlin said in a post-race interview at the track.
She beat second-place Femke Bol of the Netherlands by 1.59 seconds. McLaughlin’s main rival Dalilah Muhammad was third in 53.13 seconds, a time that would have easily won the world title just seven years ago.
And yet, as McLaughlin summed up her takeaways of the evening — a night she delivered at a race that has made her one of the circuit’s must-see events — she was far from ready to declare that she had the perfect had raced.
“I haven’t had a chance to watch it, so I have to do that and go back and talk to my coach,” McLaughlin said. “But I think there are always things that can be improved. I think we’re pushing the boundaries of sport, especially at our event.”
After McLaughlin received her gold medal and heard “The Star-Spangled Banner,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe presented her with a check for $100,000 – the prize for breaking the world record. This was the fourth major race in a row in which she was up the grade.
On a clear, perfect 72-degree night at Hayward Field, McLaughlin outperformed Bol and Muhammad at the 150-yard mark. By the time the American reached the final corner, it was clear this was going to be a pure race against the clock.
“It was crazy,” said Bol. “She was so far ahead at the end that I almost doubted whether I really had a good race. Then I saw the time and thought: ‘Wow, that explains a lot.”’
When McLaughlin finished, she bent down, looked at the scoreboard and said, “That’s great, that’s great.” She clutched her knees and smiled. A minute later, she was bombarded with a photo by mascot Legend the Bigfoot while holding a sign saying, “World records are my favorite food.”
The 400 hurdle record of 52.34 held by Yuliya Pechonkina of Russia was on the books for 16 years when Muhammad, not McLaughlin, lowered it to 52.20 at the 2019 US Championships in Iowa.
Muhammad’s coach Boogie Johnson said at the time there had long been a thought that the Russian’s record was “a little soft” and ripe for a takeover. Muhammad broke it again at 2019 World Championships with a 52.16.
That was a race McLaughlin lost by just .07 and one that prompted her to make changes.
Since teaming up with coach Bobby Kersee, she has broken the record at last year’s Olympic Trials (51.90), Olympics (51.46) and last month’s National Championships (51.41). Well, this – a 1.4% improvement over a four-week-old record and a maiden voyage back to the 1950s.
“I definitely thought it was possible,” Muhammad said. “And after this race I think 49 is possible.”
McLaughlin set three of her four records on this very stretch at Hayward Field. She has turned what was once the best one-on-one showdown of all time – her versus Muhammad – into a one-woman show for the time being.
The big question: how?
Some answers lie in the mix of improved track surfaces, new technology in the spikes that overcomes the great Edwin Moses versus “trampolines on the shoes,” and a new training schedule from Kersee, who has worked with virtually every great in America, upfront the Olympic Games last year.
But mostly pure talent.
“It’s just about bringing everything you’ve been doing in practice into the race, to the point where you just let your body do what it’s doing,” McLaughlin said.
Another take on McLaughlin’s dominance: Crossing the track and clearing 10 hurdles took her just 1.57 seconds longer than Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas to win the 400 flat, which was about half an hour from the main event took place.
In the men’s event, American Michael Norman won the world title in 44.29 seconds, beating 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James in the final 80 meters.
Norman received a round of applause from the almost full stands, although the emotional focus of the evening came a few minutes early. Javelin thrower Kara Winger, a 36-year-old who has had her second ACL surgery, threw 64.05 meters (210 ft, 1 in) on her sixth and final attempt to finish second behind Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber .
It was the first medal at a major competition for the eight-time national champion, who set up a cable system in her backyard to keep up with her training during the pandemic.
And then along came McLaughlin. She and Muhammad increased the U.S. medals to 26–8 days overall. The Americans need five more to break their championship record. The weekend is packed with relays including the surprise return of Allyson Felix in the 4×400.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see McLaughlin (and Muhammad) on America’s 4×400 relay team as well, just as they were in Tokyo last summer where they helped the US win gold.
Speaking of the 400 apartment, McLaughlin teased the idea that she might have a future there, too.
“My coach thinks there’s still a lot to do,” she said. “Eventually we could maybe do the 4 or maybe the 100 hurdles. He says to just enjoy the 400 hurdles while I do it, and then if you want to expand, go from there. Well, the sky’s the limit for sure.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
https://www.espn.com/olympics/trackandfield/story/_/id/34282867/unreal-sydney-mclaughlin-obliterates-own-world-record-winning-first-400m-hurdles-title-world-championships Sydney McLaughlin again breaks own world record in winning first 400m hurdles title at world championships