Sydney McLaughlin shattered her world record by a whopping 0.73 seconds Friday, blazing through the 400-meter hurdles in 50.68 seconds for her first career gold medal at the world championships.
The 22-year-old obliterated the field in setting the first world record of these championships. More impressively, it marked the fourth straight major race in which she’s bettered the mark.
“It’s unreal,” McLaughlin said in the post-race interview on the track.
Femke Bol of the Netherlands finished second in 52.27 — that’s a 1.59-second difference — and defending world champion, Dalilah Muhammad finished third in 53.13 — a time that would’ve won the race going away a mere seven years ago.
On a clear, perfect, 72-degree night at Hayward Stadium, the New Jersey native left Bol and Muhammad behind by the 150-meter mark. When the American reached the final curve, it was clear this would strictly be a race against the clock.
When she finished, she bent to the ground, looked at the scoreboard and said, “That’s great, that’s great.” She clutched her knees and smiled. A minute later, the mascot, Legend the Bigfoot, photo bombed her while holding a sign saying: “World records are my favorite food.”
Her’s, too. After the medals ceremony, World Athletics President Seb Coe presented McLaughlin with a check for $100,000 — the bonus for anyone who sets a world mark at this meet.
“Honestly, I just wanted to run and go for it,” she said. “That last 100 really hurt.“
The 400-hurdles record had sat on the books for 16 years when Muhammad lowered it to 52.20 at U.S. championships in Iowa in 2019.
Since then, either she or Muhammad have broken it at every major meet: Muhammad at 2019 worlds (52.16), then McLaughlin at last year’s Olympic trials (51.90), the Olympics (51.46), nationals this year (51.41), and, now, this.
McLaughlin has set three of those four records on this very track at Hayward Stadium. She has turned what used to be the best one-on-one showdown in sports — her vs. Muhammad — into a one-woman show for the time being.
The big question: how?
Some answers lie in the mix of improved track surfaces, new technology in the spikes that hurdling great Edwin Moses compared to “having trampolines on your shoes,” and a new coaching regimen employed by Bobby Kersee in the run-up to last year’s Olympics.
But mostly, pure talent.
Another way to look at McLauglin’s dominance: Traversing the track while leaping 10 hurdles took her only 1.57 seconds longer than Shaunae Miller-Uibo needed to win the 400-flat, held about a half-hour before the main event.
Like McLaughlin, Miller-Uibo has dominated her race over the past year-plus. Like McLaughlin, this was Miller-Uibo’s first world championship. She beat Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic by 0.49 seconds for a repeat of the same 1-2 finish as in Tokyo last year.
In the men’s race, American Michael Norman won the world title in 44.29 seconds, pulling away from 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James over the final 80 meters.
Norman received massive applause from the nearly full stands, which saw the U.S. win medals Nos. 23 through 26 on Day 8.
The Americans head into the relay-heavy weekend, which will include the surprise return of Allyson Felix in the 4×400, needing five more to top their championships record, set five years ago in London. They won 26 medals last year in Tokyo.
While McLaughlin’s win was huge, the emotional center of the evening came a few minutes earlier. Javelin thrower Kara Winger threw 64.05 meters (210 feet, 1 inch) on her sixth and final throw to finish second behind Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber.
It was the first medal in any major competition for the eight-time national champion, who rigged up a cable-and-pulley system in her backyard to keep up with her training during the pandemic.