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Sydney McLaughlin Has Been An Outlier Among Outliers

Sydney McLaughlin

Ever since her early teens, Sydney McLaughlin has been an outlier among outliers, a woman who’s taken what is implausible to others and made it seem routine. A native of New Jersey, she’s been shredding all-time best marks for the past nine years.

Her latest – the most recent world record – came at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 on Friday (22), when the US star broke through an inconceivable, unfathomable barrier of 51 seconds for the 400m hurdles, clocking 50.68.

McLaughlin holds the world 400m hurdles bests at every age from 14 to 19. She holds the world U18 record at 54.18 – no one has ever got within a second of it. She holds the fastest ever time by an U20 athlete at 52.75 – no one has got within 1.5 seconds of that.

And with a peerless, near-perfect performance at Hayward Field on Friday night, she again broke the senior world record for the third time in 12 months, her best mark now nine-tenths of a second ahead of the next fastest in history – which equates to seven metres on the track.

Out there on her own – as she has been for so long.

Silver went to Femke Bol of the Netherlands in 52.27, with bronze going to the previous world champion Dalilah Muhammad of USA in 53.13. USA’s Shamier Little was fourth in 53.76.

After the race, McLaughlin sat on the track for considerable time. There were two reasons. “I was just trying to process the lactic acid,” she said, “and I was taking a moment to enjoy what had happened.”

Later in the night, her fellow medallists were asked if they thought 50.68 was a time they ever thought possible. “I definitely thought 50 was possible, and after that race I think 49 is possible – by Sydney,” laughed Muhammad.

How close was it to the perfect race?

“I think there’s always more to improve upon,” said McLaughlin. “There’s always more that can be shaven off, for sure. There’s no such thing as a perfect race, but I don’t think that was a super-clean race.”

McLaughlin felt like she was in a “flow state” during those 50 seconds where she was “putting everything you’ve done in practice into the race, just letting your body do what it does – releasing the gifts and talents that God’s given you.”

What does the future hold after a performance like that?

McLaughlin said it could take any direction, either to a new event like the 400m or 100m hurdles or a possible double at the Paris Olympics, but she plans to heed the advice of her coach, Bobby Kersee.

“There’s talk of doubles, talks of switching,” she said. “Honestly, I have no clue.”

• Day summary: 50.68! McLaughlin runs earth-shattering world 400m hurdles record on day eight in Oregon

• Report and video: McLaughlin obliterates world 400m hurdles record with 50.68 in Oregon


Sydney McLaughlin
Born: 7 August 1999. Coach: Bobby Kersee

Sydney McLaughlin is no stranger to breaking records.

Since her early years in the sport, she has been making her mark on the sprints and hurdles. But then, track and field has always been in McLaughlin’s genes.

McLaughlin was born in New Jersey in August 1999 as the third of four children. Her father, Willie, reached the 400m semifinals at the 1984 US Olympic Trials, while her mother, Mary, was a runner in high school.

All of McLaughlin’s siblings – older sister Morgan, older brother Taylor and younger brother Ryan – showed promise in athletics, but Sydney has been the most successful of the quartet.

She first came to prominence in 2014 at the age of 14 when she started setting world age bests. That year, she reduced the world age-14 bests to 13.34 in the 100m hurdles and 55.63 in the 400m hurdles, both over the senior height barriers.

The latter performance came at the US U20 Championships, where she finished second – a qualifying position for the World U20 Championships in Eugene that year. But at age 14, McLaughlin was too young to compete there.

In 2015, McLaughlin was old enough to make her global championships debut. Despite being the second youngest in the field, she won the 400m hurdles at the World U18 Championships in Cali, finishing almost a second ahead of her nearest opponent.

As the Olympic year rolled around in 2016, McLaughlin’s progress continued and she set a world U18 best of 54.46 to win at the New Balance Nationals.

She went on to compete at the US Trials and, at the age of 16, placed third in a world U20 record of 54.15 to earn a place on the US Olympic team. She went on to finish fifth in her semifinal at the Rio Games, just nine days after her 17th birthday.

McLaughlin broke the world U20 record again in 2017 with 53.82. She also ran a staggering 49.85 split in the 4x400m at the New Balance Nationals, capping a phenomenal high school career.

In 2018 she started her studies at the University of Kentucky. While her collegiate season was long, it gave her the opportunity to test herself across a range of disciplines.

During the indoor season that year, McLaughlin, still aged just 18, ran 36.12 for 300m and 50.36 for 400m – the fastest times ever recorded indoors by an U20 athlete.

She also clocked 22.68 for 200m, moving to fourth on the world U20 indoor all-time list. Outdoors, she reduced her PBs to 50.07 in the 400m flat and 52.75 over the barriers, and was victorious in her specialist event at the NCAA Championships.

She turned professional later that year, then became a regular on the international circuit in 2019, winning at the Diamond League meetings in Oslo and Monaco.

Her first 400m hurdles loss of the year came at the US Championships where Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad produced a world record of 52.20 to finish 0.68 ahead of McLaughlin.

Their positions were reversed at the Diamond League final a few weeks later, though, where McLaughlin won in 52.85, beating Muhammad by 1.01.

Muhammad was back to her best at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, but was pushed all the way by McLaughlin. Muhammad won in 52.16, once again improving the world record, while McLaughlin finished second in 52.23 to become, at age 20, the second-fastest woman in history.

The friendly rivalry between the two continued in 2021, when it was McLaughlin’s turn for a record-breaking victory at the US Trials. There she broke Muhammad’s mark with 51.90, becoming the first woman in history to break 52 seconds for the event. Muhammad, who had been battling injuries and Covid-19 earlier in the year, finished second in 52.42.

It seemed as though the pair would continue to push each other to faster times and so it proved – McLaughlin needing to run a remarkable 51.46 to beat Muhammad to the Olympic title in Tokyo. Mirroring what happened in the men’s event the day before, Muhammad finished second in 51.58, well inside McLaughlin’s previous world record, and Femke Bol of the Netherlands was third in a European record of 52.03 – faster than Muhammad’s world record that had stood until June.

McLaughlin picked up where she had left off in 2022. Starting her year with a 100m hurdles race in April, she made her 400m hurdles season debut at the start of June. Next up was the USATF Championships at Hayward Field, venue for the World Athletics Championships Oregon22. 

Back on the same track where she first broke the world record, McLaughlin won her heat in 54.11 and then took her semifinal in 52.90. The next day, she blazed to her third world record – 51.41.

Of course, she wasn’t done. Back on the global stage, on her return to Hayward Field, McLaughlin took her event to yet another level, going sub-51 seconds for the first time. Such is the standard of her 50.68, this latest world record time would currently put McLaughlin 19th on this season’s top list for the 400m flat. Yet the US hurdles star achieved this with 10 barriers in the way.


McLaughlin’s progression
(All at 400m and 400m hurdles, unless otherwise stated)
Age 14 (2014): 13.34 (100m hurdles), 53.78, 55.63
Age 15 (2015): 8.17 (60m hurdles), 52.59, 55.28
Age 16 (2016): 51.84i, 54.15
Age 17 (2017): 51.61i, 53.82
Age 18 (2018): 50.07 (50.36i), 52.75
Age 19/20 (2019): 50.78, 52.23
Age 21 (2021): 12.65 (100m hurdles), 51.16, 51.46
Age 22 (2022) 50.68

McLaughlin’s PBs
100m: 11.07w (3.5m/s)
200m: 22.39, 22.68i
300m: 36.12i
400m: 50.07, 50.36i
500m: 1:09.46i
60m hurdles: 8.17
100m hurdles: 12.65
300m hurdles: 38.90
400m hurdles: 50.68
4x400m: 3:16.85
Long jump: 6.29m

McLaughlin’s 400m hurdles records
World U18 best: 54.15, Eugene 2016
World U20 record: 53.60, Fayetteville 2018 (her 52.75 could not be ratified)
World record: 50.68, Eugene 2022 (pending ratification)

400m hurdles world all-time list
50.68 Sydney McLaughlin (USA) Eugene 2022*
51.58 Dalilah Muhammad (USA) Tokyo 2021
52.03 Femke Bol (NED) Tokyo 2021
52.34 Yuliya Pechonkina (RUS) Tula 2003
52.39 Shamier Little (USA) Stockholm 2021
52.42 Melaine Walker (JAM) Berlin 2009
52.47 Lashinda Demus (USA) Daegu 2011
52.61 Kim Batten (USA) Gothenburg 1995
52.62 Tonja Burford-Bailey (USA) Gothenburg 1995
52.70 Natalya Antyukh (RUS) London 2012

400m hurdles world record progression
56.51 Krystyna Kacperczyk (POL) Augsberg 1974
55.74 Tatyana Storozheva (URS) Chemnitz 1977
55.63 Karin Rossley (GDR) Helsinki 1977
55.44 Krystyna Kacperczyk (POL) Berlin 1978
55.31 Tatyana Zelentsova (URS) Podolsk 1978
54.89 Tatyana Zelentsova (URS) Prague 1978
54.78 Marina Makeyeva (URS) Moscow 1979
54.28 Karin Rossley (GDR) Jena 1980
54.02 Anna Ambraziene (URS) Moscow 1983
53.58 Margarita Ponomaryova (URS) Kiev 1984
53.55 Sabine Busch (GDR) Berlin 1985
53.32 Marina Stepanova (URS) Stuttgart 1986
52.94 Marina Stepanova Tashkent 1986
52.74 Sally Gunnell (GBR) Stuttgart 1993
52.61 Kim Batten (USA) Gothenburg 1995
52.34 Yuliya Pechonkina (RUS) Tula 2003
52.20 Dalilah Muhammad (USA) Des Moines 2019
52.16 Dalilah Muhammad (USA) Doha 2019
51.90 Sydney McLaughlin (USA) Eugene 2021
51.46 Sydney McLaughlin (USA) Tokyo 2021
51.41 Sydney McLaughlin (USA) Eugene 2022*
50.68 Sydney McLaughlin (USA) Eugene 2022*

*Subject to the usual ratification procedure