US teen advances in Olympic 400 hurdles despite cold, nerves

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) The American teenager was talking as if her time in Rio was done - the competition was just too intimidating, the Olympic atmosphere was too overwhelming and she was bothered by a persistent cold.

That's the thing about Sydney McLaughlin, even when she's not at her best and maybe a bit overwhelmed, she still finds a way to get things done. The 17-year-old from Dunellen, New Jersey, cut it close Monday night, but made it through to the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles.

Looks like that summer homework project she's been putting off will just have to wait another few days.

''It's exciting to be here,'' said McLaughlin, who finished in 56.32 seconds - the 20th fastest time, and just enough to advance. ''But it's also a little intimidating, because a lot of people have done this before and have more experience than me. I mean, just to be here, at this age, representing my country, it's amazing.''

McLaughlin wasn't exactly sure how to run this type of Olympic race - go out fast or save a burst to finish. So, she decided to play it safe. Midway through, she knew that wasn't going to cut it and turned on the speed.

''It's hard to bounce back from some sloppy hurdles in the beginning,'' said McLaughlin, the youngest American track and field athlete to compete in the Summer Games since 1972, according to USA Track and Field. ''You waste energy trying to fix your stride pattern. Overall, the strength wasn't there.''

In fairness, she has been battling a cold.

''I went into the race with my expectations a little bit lower than should've been,'' said McLaughlin, who turned 17 on Aug. 7. ''It took me 200 meters to realize everyone is working for a spot here. It's not just another race.''

It's definitely not.

A little down after her performance - she didn't earn one of the three automatic spots - she was almost resigned to having her experience in Rio draw to a close.

When all the heats had finished, there was a big sigh of relief.

''It's so much to process in one race and try to overcome at one time,'' said McLaughlin, who didn't walk in the opening ceremony but plans to get involved in the closing ceremony. ''I'm not really particularly happy with my performance. But whatever happens, happens.''

About her reading project which is due before she starts her senior year in about a month. She vows to get it done - and she is an expert at juggling.

No, really. She started a juggling club at her high school and can juggle while riding a unicycle.

The homework, she said, ''That's next on my agenda.''

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