Coming off the final hurdle, Sydney McLaughlin charged past reigning Olympic champion and fellow American Dalilah Muhammad to win gold in the women’s 400-meter hurdles in 51.46 and lowered her own world record by .44 seconds.
"I saw Dalilah ahead of me with one to go," McLaughlin said after the race. "I just thought 'Run your race'. "The race doesn't really start till hurdle seven and I just wanted to go out there and give it everything I had."
Muhammad, who got out hard in the race and led through a majority of the race, took second in 51.58 and got under the previous world record of 51.90 that McLaughlin took from her at the U.S. Olympic Trials. 21-year-old Dutch star Femke Bol ran a personal best of 52.03 for a new European record and bronze.
McLaughlin is just three years into her professional career and Wednesday morning’s final easily makes her one of the greatest hurdlers in American history.
In 2016, McLaughlin was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic track team since 1972 and thrived in the spotlight as one of the sport’s rising phenoms with a list of more records and national honors than some entire high school teams.
“I made the mistake in 2016 of letting the atmosphere get to me [and didn't make the final]," McLaughlin said. "But this time I stayed in my bubble and did the same things I had been doing before."
She went back to school and competed at Union Catholic High School (NJ) for a whole year after the Rio Games, which basically made every race a battle for second for other high school kids. In 2018, she went off to college at the University of Kentucky for a year, where she broke the NCAA record in 52.75 at the SEC Championships and then won an NCAA title before signing a professional contract with New Balance.
As a pro, McLaughlin’s continued improving while chasing Muhammad as the United States’ top star and reigning Olympic champion. At the U.S. Championships in 2019, Muhammad ran 52.20 for the win and broke the world record of 52.34 by Yuliya Pechonkina, which had stood since 2003. McLaughlin was .68 seconds back. Their next duel came at the world championships in Doha, where Muhammad lowered her own world record to 52.16 and McLaughlin took silver in 52.23 to become the second-fastest woman of all time.
When the pandemic hit, Mclaughlin continued training but did not race once in 2020. She went 611 days between the 2019 world championship final and her first 400-meter hurdles race on June 6th.
The start of this year saw some changes for McLaughlin who decided to switch coaches from 2004 Olympic 100 meter hurdles champion Joanna Hayes to Bobby Kersee, who coached all-time greats Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Florence Griffith Joyner and Allyson Felix. Those three have a combined 20 career Olympic medals, including 12 golds.
She spent much of the spring focusing on shorter speed and ran five 100 meter hurdle races and notched personal bests in four of the races and got down to 12.65, which puts her in the top 20 of the world this year.
“This is his 11th Olympics he’s coaching," McLaughlin said, "He has been around the block a few times and knew what it was going to take to get me to this point. He just changed my perspective on how I approach the race, so yeah, I owe it all to him... I knew he saw something different in me than a lot of people did. He knew how to get me there. Our relationship goes far beyond track because Bobby is such a great person and he sees me off the track, which allows me to be the best I can be on the track."
Under the new approach, McLaughlin cruised through the rounds of the U.S. Olympic Trials before taking .26 seconds off Muhammad’s world record and becoming the first woman under 52 seconds with a 51.90 victory. Muhammad was the first to congratulate McLaughlin after the finish and in post-race interviews, the 21-year-old was quick to acknowledge that the world record would not have been possible without Muhammad pushing her.
“Every question is going to be, 'am I happy or am I unhappy with silver?'" Muhammad said after the race. "But that's not how I feel at all. I've had an amazing year and to finish with 51.5 and shattering my personal best is absolutely amazing."
"Just like the men's race, all three of our times would have won any Olympics, any other year," she added. "I'm so proud to be part of that history and even more proud of my teammate Sydney. I'm just happy it's a one-two final for the USA and today I'm happy with second."
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