Sydney McLaughlin looked to her left, saw the numbers “51.90,” and knew exactly what that meant.
She put her hands on her head, then covered her mouth and looked into the night sky.
The 400-meter hurdles world record belongs to her now.
New Jersey native set the mark at the U.S. track and field trials in Eugene, Ore., finishing in 51.90 seconds, on Sunday night. McLaughlin shattered the record by 0.26 seconds.
McLaughlin, who is from Dunellen, NJ. and attended Union Catholic High School, bested the mark of 52.16 set by second-place finisher Dalilah Muhammad, who crossed in 52.42. Anna Cockrell was third in 53.70. The trio will head to the Olympics in Tokyo.
Muhammad, who is from Jamaica, Queens and went to Benjamin Cardozo High School, won the gold in Brazil in 2016. Muhammad topped runner-up McLaughlin in the 2019 world championships in Doha.
Sunday was blowout in what had been touted as potentially the best race of the 10-day meet in Eugene. But it set up what could be the best race in Tokyo. Barring something unexpected, the rematch will come Aug. 4 with the Olympic gold medal on the line.
“Truly just faith and trusting the process,” McLaughlin said when asked to explain her breakthrough.
McLaughlin is the 21-year-old who burst onto the scene five years ago, telling stories about her multiple talents, which included juggling and riding a unicycle — and doing both at the same time.
Pretty good hurdler, too.
Her 51.90 broke the record Muhammad set two years ago when they raced at world championships. A few weeks before that, Muhammad set the world record by beating McLaughlin at U.S. nationals, too. The crazy part: The 52.23 McLaughlin ran at worlds would have been the world record had she run it before Muhammad started rewriting the book that season.
In the five years that passed, McLaughlin went to Bobby Kersee, the coach who got the most out of Allyson Felix, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith Joyner, among others.
He put McLaughlin on a new plan — getting her focused on form and running shorter hurdles courses.
“It was trusting the process, and a lot of things you can’t really see coming,” McLaughlin said. “But just having the childlike faith in trusting everything is going to work out. Bobby’s really good at that.”
Muhammad has had a slow move into form this year. She said she couldn’t break 55 seconds when the year started, “so to get a 52 feels pretty good.”
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” she said.
Only time will tell. Not too much time, though.
“She definitely pushes me,” Muhammad said. Then, she turned to McLaughlin and said: “Congratulations, you world-record holder. It’s going to be a battle in Tokyo for sure.”
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