How Sydney McLaughlin Smashed the 400m Hurdle Record at US Olympic Trials
As was typical for a pre-Olympic year over the last 4 decades, and 10 Olympic cycles, last Summer I received a call from the legendary track and field coach Bobby Kersee, the husband of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and coach to Florence Griffith Joyner, Allyson Felix and over 50 other Olympic medalists. I was expecting to discuss Allyson Felix’s post baby quest to make her 5th Olympic Team for the postponed Tokyo Games.
After overcoming a potentially season ending ankle injury in 2016 ( Daniela plz provide link to the previous newsletter article on this topic ) to win three more Olympic medals at the Rio Games and surpass our very own Jackie Joyner Kersee to become the most decorated US female track and field athlete of all time, Alyson was then 34 years old and with baby. We discussed her needs for another Olympic run but he also had some other important news to discuss: he was now coaching a young and promising athlete named Sydney McLaughlin and we were going after one of the few accomplishments his previous Olympic medalists had not yet achieved: the Women’s 400m Hurdle World Record! We have worked together for many other World records but this one was elusive.
He was going to put McLaughlin on a new plan — getting her focused on form and running shorter hurdles courses to improve her leg speed, and she needed a PHASE IV injury prevention strength training program. His plan was an unconventional approach to developing leg speed for a 400m hurdler; compete the 60m indoor and 100m outdoor hurdles where speed and technique are critical.
“A lot of people didn’t understand, because they didn’t see where it was translating to in our practices for the 400 hurdles,” McLaughlin said. “I kind of knew right away it was making sense. And as time progressed and the strength started to build, it definitely reflected that we could get to this point.”
“It was trusting the process, and a lot of things you can’t really see coming,” McLaughlin said. “But just having the childlike faith in trusting everything is going to work out. Bobby’s really good at that.”
When Sydney McLaughlin first competed in the US Olympic Trials 5 years ago she was still in high school and had to prove she could compete with the pros. This past weekend the 21 year old proved she was the fastest 400m hurdler ever! And she did it by running down the reigning world champion Delilah Muhammad and current world record holder in the last 80 meters to win the women’s 400-meter hurdles with a time of 51.90. She is the first women to break 52 seconds in this storied event.
Now she is heading back to the Olympic Games for the second time in her still young career as a gold-medal favorite and the world record-holder. “It’s an honor,” McLaughlin said of breaking the previous mark, set by Muhammad in 2019. “So many amazing women have come before me. So many amazing women will come after me. I just want to be able to leave my mark, and be a part of such an amazing sport.”
THE ANATOMY OF A WORLD RECORD