At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, she was a 16-year-old prodigy known as “Syd the Kid.” At the 2021 Olympic Trials, Sydney McLaughlin’s new title is “400-meter hurdles world-record holder.”
McLaughlin, 21, set the 400-meter hurdles mark on 51.90 on Sunday, the last night of competition at the Olympic Trials, earning her spot to compete at the Tokyo Games, her second Olympics.
Dalilah Muhammad, who held the former world record holder (52.20) was second in 52.42. And Anna Cockrell, who just won NCAA titles in the 100-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles competing for the University of Southern California, was third in 53.70.
The final went off after a five-hour delay, due to excessive heat that took hold in the Pacific Northwest. After temperatures hit 111 degrees in Eugene, Oregon, and a heptathlete suffered heat-related illness, U.S.A. Track & Field announced that competition had been suspended. By the time races resumed at Hayward Field at 8:30 p.m. Pacific, it was 99 degrees on the track, but at least the sun wasn’t beating down on the oval anymore.
Last summer, when the Tokyo Games were postponed, McLaughlin decided to make a coaching change, joining Bob Kersee and remaining on Los Angeles. Her preparation and buildup to the Trials indicated the world record was within reach.
“Oh my gosh. It’s one of those moments you wanna put together,” McLaughlin said. “Waking up today, I knew it was going to be a great day. I will cherish this for the rest of my life.”
Muhammad, who is the 2016 gold medalist in the 400 meters, struggled during the pandemic with injuries and also contracting COVID-19. Nonetheless, she was able to pull it together to make the Tokyo Games.
“It’s very discouraging when setbacks happen to you,” Muhammad said. “You don’t know how the season will go, and I remember having conversations with my coach if it’s going to happen, and asked him at practice for a month like, ‘Are you sure?'”
McLaughlin and Muhammad have become fierce competitors on the track, but say they have a lot of respect for each other and enjoy pushing each other to new levels.
“Iron sharpens iron,” McLaughlin said. “There’s no animosity or hard feelings. We have to have each other to have these world records.”
Cockrell was emotional after her race—she is a first-time Olympian who has talked openly about her struggles with depression as a student at USC who graduated in three years with a 3.98 GPA. Her perfectionist tendencies have led to some dark days when she doesn’t live up to her own expectations or injuries prevent her from running.
“I got to a point in 2018-2019 where I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this anymore,” Cockrell said. “During COVID I took a lot of time off. I eventually rediscovered my love for track and just moving for the sake of moving. During COVID rediscovering my love for the sport is what has gotten me through this whole season. I’m here because I love it, because I’m good at it. I love it, but it’s not what defines me.”