The United States Olympic Track and Field Trials ended Sunday with a record-setting day, highlighted by the performance of Sydney McLaughlin in the women’s 400-meter hurdles.

McLaughlin broke the world record, and ensured herself a spot on the U.S. team in the event at the Tokyo Olympics, by speeding to a time of 51.9 seconds.

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Who is Sydney McLaughlin?

McLaughlin is a 21-year-old native of Dunellen, New Jersey. She qualified for the 2016 Olympics in the 400 hurdles and became the youngest U.S. Olympian to compete in track and field since 1972, finishing 17th that year before going on to run track collegiately at the University of Kentucky.

Now, McLaughlin is a favorite to win gold in Tokyo, along with U.S. teammate Dalilah Muhammad, who finished second behind McLaughlin on Sunday in a time of 52.42.     

It wasn’t just the track world that was stunned by her performance Sunday. McLaughlin’s face as she realized she had broken the world record quickly became the lasting impression from a memorable night.

“It’s one of those moments you think about and dream about and play in your head that you’ll put it together,” said McLaughlin, according to The Associated Press.

Other record-setting performances

Sunday proved to be an excellent sendoff for the American track and field team before the Tokyo Olympics.

  • JuVaughn Harrison, a 22-year-old who recently finished his senior year at LSU, became the first American since Jim Thorpe in 1912 to qualify for the same Olympics in both the high jump and long jump. Harrison won both events Sunday.
  • Noah Lyles won the men’s 200 meters in a world-leading time of 19.74 seconds, and he’ll be joined in Tokyo by third-place finisher Erriyon Knighton, a 17-year-old who becomes the youngest male member of the U.S. Olympic track team since Jim Ryun in 1964.
  • Athing Mu, 19 years old, won the women’s 800-meter run with a time of 1:56.07, which not only set her personal best, it’s the top time in the world this year, set the Olympic trials record and is just a half-second behind Ajee Wilson’s U.S. record, according to Yahoo! Sports.
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Heat wave shatters records, too

All of this action happened during a record heat wave that is going through the Pacific Northwest, impacting the Olympic trials on the campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. 

  • Temperatures at Hayward Field reached 108 degrees, according to The Associated Press, and the surface of the track exceeded 150. That forced U.S. track and field officials to move several events around — McLaughlin’s race was delayed by four hours — and there was a halt in action around 3 p.m. after heptathlete Taliyah Brooks was carted off the track in a wheelchair, per The Associated Press.  

What does it mean for the Olympics?

McLaughlin and Muhammad are the top two contenders for the 400-meter hurdles title. Muhammed was ranked No. 1 in the event’s world rankings heading into the U.S. Olympic trials, with McLaughlin No. 2.

Fellow American Shamier Little was ranked No. 3 in the event’s world rankings, but she clipped the eighth hurdle, per Yahoo! Sports, and finished fourth, making way for Anna Cockrell to earn the U.S. team’s final spot by finishing third in a time of 53.7.

McLaughlin and Muhammad have a bit of a rivalry in the 400 hurdles, something to watch as they perform in the Olympics. Prior to Sunday, the two raced each other two other times in a major race and saw a new world record set, both times by Muhammad in the 2019 U.S. championships and again later that year in the worlds at Qatar.