She’s a once-in-a-generation talent, making her first Olympics in 2016 at age 16. And although it’s hard to believe that hurdler Sydney McLaughlin will be going for her second Games at just 20 years old, she’s matured in countless ways in the past four years.

After a year at the University of Kentucky, McLaughlin decided to turn pro in 2018. The excitement surrounding her talent at a tender age, combined with her ability to connect with a younger demographic resulted in what amounted to a bidding war. New Balance won for an industry-estimated $1.5 million in annual base pay, although contracts are not public. Instead of going with a standard athlete agent, McLaughlin hired William Morris Endeavor as her representation—a talent firm that typically reps Hollywood stars over track stars.

In taking a different tact toward her athletic pursuits, McLaughlin earns big points for proactively treating her career like a business endeavor. While it might be the norm for other sports, it’s not often seen in pro track and field.

Will she make the Tokyo team? It’s likely. She’s following in the footsteps of American Dalilah Muhammad, who set the world record in the 400-meter hurdles twice in the 2019 season. McLaughlin came in second to Muhammad at the world championships, bringing the silver medal back to her Los Angeles home in October. It’s a matchup the fans love to see.

“To say the least, this year has been full of growth,” McLaughlin wrote after the world championships. “I stepped out of my old life and grew up. In order to find yourself, you must lose. Lose a race, lose people, lose hope. But in the end, it all works out…we will be back, next time not as a rookie. But still running like a vet.”

 

This profile was first published in the January/February 2020 print issue of Women’s Running as part of “Front Runners: 20 Power Women of 2020” which celebrates 20 elite female runners who are giving power new meaning, and a new image. You can see the full list of honorees here.