This is the tenth story from Lindsay Rossmiller on the Olympic Trials. Each day of the Trials, Lindsay picked an athlete that interested her, and write for us at RunBlogRun. This is a fun way to end the Trials, with Lindsay’s piece on the new World Junior Record.
By: Lindsay Rossmiller
EUGENE, Ore. – Sydney McLaughlin just wanted a cheeseburger when she finished the women’s 400-meter hurdles final on the last day of the U.S. Olympic Trials, but the sixteen-year-old had to stay on her feet for another lap, as the three members of Team U.S.A. made a victory lap around Hayward Field.
McLaughlin finished third in 54.15 to winner Dalilah Muhammad (52.88) and runner-up Ashley Spencer (54.02).
“My mind was on finishing this race and going and eating a cheeseburger,” said McLaughlin.
Nevermind that McLaughlin broke the world youth record and became the youngest Team U.S.A. track athlete since Cindy Gilbert in 1972.
“This is a big meet – a lot of cameras, a lot of people, but sometimes I forget that I’m just sixteen,” said McLaughlin. “There’s not as much expectation, you know. I don’t get paid for this, I’m just here to have fun.”
The junior from Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey was still wearing her high school uniform as she got set in the blocks in lane 5. Coming down the homestretch, McLaughlin held off Kori Carter in the final meters.
With the winning time, Muhammad set a new meet record and Spencer set a new PR to finish ahead of McLaughlin. Both Muhammad and Spencer run for Nike.
McLaughlin had other ideas about her goals coming into the Olympic Trials.
“I just wanted to go out there, run my race, and just get it over with. I’ve had a long season,” said McLaughlin. “Just to get through a meet like this, it’s just so big, it would be a confidence booster for Juniors.”
She won the 400 hurdles at the U.S. Junior Nationals on June 25, 2016 to qualify for the IAAF World Under 20 Championships in Bydgosczcz, Poland which begin July 19, 2016. She is the defending gold medalist from the 2015 Youth Championships. And while she has had success on the world level, McLaughlin admitted to feeling nervousness before beginning the Olympic Trials.
“The first day I got here and I had a nervous breakdown and I wasn’t going to run because I was just so nervous, but [my coaches] pushed me through it and now here I am and I’m on the team,” said McLaughlin.
She doesn’t even have her driver’s license yet, but she can ride a unicycle and usually volunteers with a juggling camp over her summer break.
“I think just hearing the words “Olympics” is just a dream in the back of my mind,” said McLaughlin. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to the Trials, but it’s not going to happen.’ It was never really on my radar until I ran 54.”
She did that when she ran 54.46 on June 18, 2016 to break the U.S. Junior record. But McLaughlin spoke with wisdom beyond her years as she also recognized that her success late in the season was not without work or struggle. She dealt with some groin injuries early on.
“Every Olympic athlete has 2-3 major struggles their Olympic year and I definitely faced mine,” said McLaughlin. “I think just learning from each one and getting to where I am today, this is the most unreal year of my life, and this definitely has to be the icing on the cake regardless of what happens in Rio.”
And her two teammates to Rio were happy to have her join them regardless of age.
“This young lady to my left has a very bright future in this sport,” said Ashley Spencer at the post-event press conference. “I’m so proud of her.”
Yet her journey to the Olympics started innocently ten years ago when she was a six-year-old in AAU track.
“My dad said that if I won, I would get a chocolate bar with almonds so I won the race and I got a chocolate bar and ever since, I kept running, so I could get chocolate bars,” said McLaughlin.