Five weeks after setting a world record and becoming the first woman to finish under 52 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles (51.90), Sydney McLaughlin went even faster in the Tokyo Olympic final. She crossed in 51.46 seconds to lower the world’s best time, and become an Olympic champion in the process.
The 21-year-old American improved her world record by .44 of a second Wednesday morning in Tokyo (Tuesday night in the U.S.) to claim her first Olympic medal. Compatriot Dalilah Muhammad, the reigning world and Olympic champion, placed second in 51.58, which also would have set a new world record. They are the only two women to ever run the event in under 52 seconds. Femke Bol of the Netherlands earned Olympic bronze in 52.03.
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) August 4, 2021
The gold medal marks the crowning achievement for McLaughlin, who failed to reach the 400m hurdles final five years ago at the Rio Games. She had just turned 17 at the time.
Since then, she’s graduated from Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, N.J., briefly competed at the University of Kentucky (and won the NCAA 400m hurdles title), but then turned pro and set out to challenge Muhammad, who’s 10 years older. McLaughlin will turn 22 on Saturday.
After Wednesday’s race, both runners spoke with NBC.
“Just trusting the process. Giving the glory to God,” McLaughlin said about her victory. “It’s all, this season, hard work and dedication. And [I’m] just really grateful to be able to represent my country and to have this opportunity.”
Iron sharpens iron.
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) August 4, 2021
Part of her process to peak in Tokyo was to work with a new coach. She began training last summer with Bob Kersee, who’s worked with some of the top track stars in the country — namely his wife, three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Allyson Felix, a six-time Olympic gold medalist who’s in Tokyo for her fifth and final Games. McLaughlin has looked to Felix as a bit of a mentor.
Many people began to see the process paying off in June, when McLaughlin first set the world record at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
“All the glory to God,” McLaughlin told NBC following that victory. “Honestly, this season just working with my new coach and my new support system, it’s truly just faith and trusting the process. I couldn’t ask for anything more and truly it is all a gift from God.”
In another post-race interview that night with more media members, McLaughlin was asked if she ever felt frustrated after many times finishing behind Muhammad (such as at the 2019 World Championships), who has clearly set the standard in the women’s 400m hurdles.
“Dalilah’s a great competitor,” McLaughlin said. “I think I was growing into my own person. And I think the biggest difference this year is my faith, trusting God and trusting that process, and knowing that He’s in control of everything. As long as I put the hard work in, He’s going to carry me through. And I really cannot do anything more but give the glory to Him at this point.”
McLaughlin’s faith in Christ is on public display on her social media pages. On Twitter, she describes herself as a “child of God” and has an image with the words “Saved by Grace” as her profile picture.
On Instagram, her bio says simply, “Jesus saved me.” She also talked about her world record in June, saying, “I no longer run for self recognition, but to reflect His perfect will that is already set in stone. I don’t deserve anything. But by grace, through faith, Jesus has given me everything. Records come and go. The glory of God is eternal. Thank you Father.”
In November, she posted a video her getting baptized in the ocean at a beach in L.A., and said, “For twenty-one years I was running from the greatest gift I could ever receive. And by His grace, I have been saved. I no longer live, but Christ in me. My past has been made clean because of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
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Nearly nine months later, she’s giving glory to God through the gifts He’s blessed her with, all on the world stage.
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