Former Kentucky hurdler McLaughlin sets world record qualifies for Olympics

Sydney McLaughlin defeats Dalilah Muhammad to win the women's 400m hurdles in a world-record 51.90 (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Sydney McLaughlin defeats Dalilah Muhammad to win the women's 400m hurdles in a world-record 51.90 (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) /

If you missed it Sunday night (Monday morning) and there is a good chance you did, former Kentucky Track and Field phenom Sydney McLaughlin scorched the 400-meter hurdles in sweltering heat in world record time and punched her ticket to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Temperatures in Eugene, Oregon hit 108 degrees prompting an excessive heat warning and delaying the final day of completion by nearly four hours. By the time McLaughlin stepped on the track, it was well past midnight in the east.

Sydney McLaughlin set a world record to make Olympic team

It was the final event a the United States Olympic Team Trials and she blistered the track in 51.90 seconds becoming the first woman to ever break the 52 second time barrier. She crouched on the track in disbelief, hands cupped over her mouth trying to take in what had just transpired.

“Oh my gosh” is all she could say after seeing the time.

McLaughlin overtook Rio gold medalist and former world record holder Dalilah Muhammad as they came out of turn four and it was all McLaughlin pulling away. Muhammad held the previous record of 52.16 from the 2019 World Championships and is the reigning Olympic gold medalist from the Rio games in 2016.

McLaughlin finished second at those worlds in 52.23, making her the second-fastest woman in history at the time.

Fast forward and now she is the fastest.

Was how she wanted it to play out?

"“It’s one of those moments you think about and dream about and play in your head that you’ll put it together……It was trusting the process, and a lot of things you can’t really see coming. But just having the childlike faith in trusting everything is going to work out.”"

When she competed in Rio at the age of 16 she was the youngest U.S. Olympian to compete in track and field since 1972 and was one of the most decorated high-school athletes ever.

She came to Kentucky from Union Catholic in Dunellen, NJ where she did not lose a high school race – indoor or outdoor – dating from June 14, 2014, through the end of the high school years. That included winning four-straight high school 400m hurdles titles at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. She also set the New Jersey State Record with 11 individual career gold medals at the Meet of Champions.

She completed her freshman year at Kentucky and then turned professional with her eyes set on Tokyo in 2020 that became 2021 thanks to Covid-19.

While in just one season in Lexington she left many highlights and marks. The most notable had to be winning the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2018 when the rain turned to hail just before her race. Undeterred she of course found herself crossing the finish line in first place.

In brief her single-season accolades at Kentucky.

NCAA Champion – 2018 400H
Three-time SEC Champion – 2018 400m (indoor), 400H, and 4x400m relay
Five-time All-America (2018 indoor 200m, 400m, 4x400m | outdoor 400H, 4x400m)
Collegiate record: 400H – 52.75
UK record – Indoor 400m (50.36), Outdoor 400m (50.07)

Last night her brother Taylor and mom Mary watched from the stands as she closed out the games and her mom didn’t even realize what her daughter had done until Taylor leaned in and pointed out the time. The look on her face was one that only a parent can truly understand.

When she saw the video of her mom Sydney’s only word with a huge smile was “Priceless”.

But the middle children of four she and Taylor were destined to run since their dad, Willie, was a semi-finalist in the 400 meters at the 1984 Olympic Trials, while Mary was a runner in high school, specializing in the 400 and 800 meters.

She told the Focus News it comes with the territory.

"“There’s some pressure living up to the McLaughlin name. People expect you to break records and set a high standard.”"

In February, McLaughlin made a move she felt would set the state for these trials and her Olympic dreams when she announced she changed coaches from 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles champion Joanna Hayes to Bobby Kersee.

The Kersee name may sound familiar since he is the husband of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and has coached his wife, plus Florence Griffith Joyner and, since 2005, Allyson Felix. A nice lineup to say the least.

Next up McLaughlin will be heading off to Tokyo for the opening of the games on July 23, but she will wait till the back half of the schedule to compete when her portion gets underway. Round one for her will be on July 31.

As they say, Go Syd Go!!!