EUGENE, Ore. — Her victory certainly wasn’t a surprise.
Neither was the margin of her triumph, although the rest of the field appeared to be running in another time zone.
Even her latest barrier-shattering world record was expected.
No, as Sydney Michelle McLaughlin added a world title to her Olympic crown by winning the 400-meter hurdles in 50.68 seconds at the World Championships on Friday night, the only surprising thing about the 22-year-old New Jersey native’s run into history was that many in the sport were asking themselves with a straight face if McLaughlin could break the 50-second barrier?
Or is that even all that surprising?
With her second world record in less than a month and fourth in the past 13, another night at Hayward Field draped in red, white and blue, became the point where nothing seems impossible for McLaughlin.
“Sydney McLaughlin is taking her event to a place where nobody ever thought it would go,” said Ato Boldon, a world champion sprinter, “and it’s still going.”
“It’s unreal,” said McLaughlin, who bested her old mark by 0.73 seconds.
Or is it?
It was a performance worthy of the sport’s ultimate compliment – Beamonesque – if McLaughlin hasn’t continued to indicate she is just getting started.
“The time is absolutely amazing and the sport is getting faster and faster,” McLaughlin said. “Just figuring out what barriers can be broken. I’m only going to get faster from here.”
Friday night at Tracktown, U.S.A. also saw another young American star, former USC NCAA champion Michael Norman, fulfilling the promise of his youth.
Norman, the 24-year-old former Vista Murrieta High standout, held off Grenada’s Kirani James, the former Olympic and World champion, down the homestretch to win the 400 meters, erasing the disappointments of the 2019 Worlds in Doha and the Tokyo Olympics.
Thirty meters into the 2019 Worlds semi, Norman felt the hamstring give and decided not to push it, finishing last in the race and not advancing to the final.
Last summer he was fifth in the Olympic 400 final.
Norman came off the final turn virtually even with James.
“I knew it was always going to be a battle with Michael,” James said. “I thought I had a good advantage to beat him to see him in front of me. But catching him, it is never going to be easy.”
When Norman opened a slight lead at the top of the homestretch James tried to go with him. But with 50 meters remaining James’ form began to break down and Norman stretched the gap to the finish, running 44.29. James was second in 44.48 with Great Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith taking the bronze in 44.66.
Norman’s victory completed a U.S. sweep of the men’s sprint titles at this meet.
“It is an amazing feeling for sure,” Norman said. “Just to come out here, on let’s say a home track, and pull out with a gold individual medal. It is going to be a memorable one. I want to remember what took me here and I am just thankful to everybody who supported me throughout the whole career. without those people, I would not be where I am right now. So I really appreciate all those people.
“It took a lot of work to get where I was – obviously last year was not a good year for myself, so I had to do a lot of hard work just to kind of get back to where I was. This moment here is going to be remembered forever, so I wanted to make sure that all the people who are the closest to me, who understood what my objective was this year, will never try to get me out of my path of success and will never doubt myself. It will take some time to reflect on what it means to be a champion and to understand what it takes to be better.”
The question going into the women’s 400 hurdles final wasn’t whether McLaughlin would win or whether she would lower the world record but only by how much?
“We knew warming up that it was going to be one of those days,” McLaughlin said referring to her coach, Bobby Kersee. “We were ready and tried and go out there and execute.”
By the first hurdle McLaughlin, running in Lane 5, had already made up the stagger on Dalilah Muhammad, the 2016 Olympic and 2019 World champion, running in Lane 6. From there, the rest of the race was nothing more than a time trial for McLaughlin, a race between her and her world record of 51.41 set at the U.S. Championships on June 25, and the 51-second barrier.
“It was crazy,” said Netherland’s Femke Bol, who was second in 52.27. Muhammad was third in 53.13, nearly 2.5 seconds, an eternity in the event, behind McLaughlin. Or consider that McLaughlin’s 400 hurdles time would have placed seventh in the open 400 final earlier in the night.
“She was so far in front at the end, so I was always doubting if I really had a good race because it felt very good,” Bol continued. “And then I saw the sign and I was like: Wow. ‘This is just amazing.’ And it means a lot that she also broke the 51-second barrier. Yes, it is unbelievable but it is amazing to be a part of it and to come out second in such a race.”
Coming off the last hurdle, McLaughlin, like everyone else in the stadium, seemed to sneak a peek at the trackside clock.
“I knew coming home that if I just kept my cadence and stayed on my stride pattern, we could do it and it happened,” she said. “It’s very special to push boundaries for myself.”
So what boundary is next?
“After that race, I think 49 seconds is possible,” Muhammad said before pausing. “For Sydney.”
Yula Pechonkina of Russia’s 2003 world record of 52.34 stood until Muhammad lowered it to 52.20 at the 2019 U.S. Championships. Muhammad took the world record down to 52.16 at the World Championships in Doha later that season.
Since June 2021, McLaughlin has lowered the world record four times, running 51.90 at the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer, 51.46 to win the Tokyo Olympics and 51.46 last month. With Friday’s victory, she has knocked 1.66 off of a world record that stood for 16 years. And with the exception of last summer’s Olympic final, when Muhammad led until the last hurdle, McLaughlin has not been pushed during her world record runs.
“Remember, Sydney is running these races with nobody in the same zip code,” said Boldon, an NBC analyst.
“Sydney’s in everybody’s head whether they admit it. She’s in everybody’s head in the same way Bolt was,” Boldon said referring to Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the three-time Olympic 100 and 200 champion. “Because you look at him, 90 percent of people look at her and ‘go, OK I can never run that. I can barely run that over no hurdles.’ So she’s taking care of 90 percent (of the competition). The final 10 percent look at her ‘I can get close to her, I just have to figure out how to get her.’”
To find any real competition McLaughlin will likely have to switch to the flat 400.
Michael Johnson, the former Olympic champion and world record holder in the 400 and 200, is pushing for a showdown between McLaughlin and Athing Mu, the 20-year-old Olympic 800 champion, in the 400.
“I would love to see Sydney drop down and run the 400, but not for the purposes of trying to break the world record,” said Johnson, an analyst for the BBC. “What I want to see are rivalries.
“I’m not anti-record. I love records. But we’re robbing ourselves of the idea of real competition. I’d love to see Athing Mu drop down as well and Sydney and see those two battle it out for 400 meters.
“I’d love to see that type of competition.
“If you wanted to get that excitement back in the sport you would need to create a sort of structure and a sort of incentive that would make a Sydney McLaughlin say ‘you know what, it’s better for me, now that I’ve won these in hurdles and broken the world record and I’ve won everything, it’s better for me to drop down into the 400 and I’m incentivized to do so.’ You want to see two great boxers compete against each other. What happens? The purse gets huge, the bids get big in order to incentivize.”
Or could McLaughlin challenge the 400 world record of 47.60 seconds set by East Germany’s Marita Koch in 1985, 14 years before McLaughlin was born? Only one runner has even broken 48.25 since then.
“I’m such a believer in her talent and her ability to improve and to make the right moves to improve,” Boldon said. “I’m not betting against Sydney at all.”