Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Gold medalist Sydney McLaughlin lives only for God's approval, opens up about trying year

Fresh off two gold medals and a new world record at the Tokyo Olympics, U.S. track star Sydney McLaughlin posted an extremely powerful and vulnerable video on Instagram on Monday, giving insight into some struggles elite athletes face, even amid career-defining success.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

McLaughlin stated that she recorded the video two days after first setting a women’s 400-meter hurdles world record at the U.S. Olympic Trials. She went on to break her own record in Tokyo, and win a second gold medal in the women’s 4x400m relay on her 22nd birthday.

“I recorded this video two days after the Olympic Trials, with the intention of venting my frustration. Watching it back now, I feel there is a deeper message than just my emotions that I think others may need to hear,” McLaughlin wrote. “Even in success, there can be pain. Even in triumph, there can be tribulations. But how you respond, and the lens in which you view those situations provides an opportunity for growth and change.

“I am beyond grateful for everything that has taken place this year. But the thing I am most grateful for, is a renewed mind that has allowed for me to look at a video like this, and see the changes Christ is doing in my life.”

The video was motivated by the way people close to McLaughlin responded to her breaking the world record. In it, she explains how the past year has been a test of her faith despite all the success she’s had on the track.

“I felt like the people I thought would be the most excited for me literally almost didn’t even care,” McLaughlin said. “And I have some really great people in my life that love me more than I can say some family loves me. And I’m just gonna be real, it hurts. I’m still hurt to this point just not understanding when it’s going to be enough for a lot of people.”

She continued by saying her primary goal is to bring glory to God.

“I’ve worked really hard and been really cautious of how I carry myself, of the things that I post, because I want to glorify God and I want to be a good example to people,” she said. “But our world only accepts ignorance, and it hurts my feelings and I find it really disrespectful that you can do everything right and it will never be enough.”

Later on, the two-time Olympian went into more detail about some of the criticism she received. She shared that some teammates have given her the impression she got to where she is because of her physical appearance or the amount of followers on social media she has, rather than hard work and talent. That idea, McLaughlin said, “blows my mind.”

She leaned into her faith to help her cope with the pain and disappointment she was feeling. McLaughlin explained in the video that while she doesn’t understand why some people are treating her so poorly, the best thing she can do is turn to God.

“I’m so grateful I have a relationship with God the way that I do because without it, I think I would honestly be going crazy right now,” she said. “There’s so many things I just don’t understand about the world, about our sport, about our culture. It makes no sense a lot of the time.”

The most important lesson the experience reinforced to McLaughlin is to live for the approval of God and God alone. She acknowledged that had she been more worried about what others thought of her, she would have gone to an even darker place.

“I’m so grateful I don’t live for the approval of people anymore,” she said, “because moments like this would have me down for about three weeks. Of not understanding why even some of my family, some of my closest friends, aren’t more happy for me in this moment.”

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” — Galatians 1:10

RELATED STORIES:
– Gold medalist Sydney McLaughlin: ‘What I have in Christ is far greater’ than anything else
– Sydney McLaughlin ‘giving the glory to God’ after earning Olympic gold
– Sydney McLaughlin gives ‘all the glory to God’ after 400m hurdles world record
– Allyson Felix becomes most decorated female Olympian ever, thankful for ‘God’s grace’
– U.S. teenager Athing Mu wins 800m Olympic gold, seeks to live in image of Jesus
– Melissa Gonzalez praises God for time at Olympics, feels love from Detroit Lions