American favourite destroys the 400m hurdles world record again to become the first woman to run under 51 seconds
In athletics there are great performances, exceptional performances and “Beamonesque” performances. Now there will be “McLaughlinesque” performances, too.
In much the same way as Bob Beamon stunned the world with his record-breaking long jump exploits at the 1968 Olympics, so his fellow American Sydney McLaughlin produced a demonstration of similarly staggering athleticism to win the women’s 400m hurdles gold in Eugene on Friday night (July 22).
In securing the first world title of what appears destined to be one of the truly great careers, the 22-year-old obliterated not only the opposition but also her own world record, chopping a mind-boggling 0.73 seconds from her 51.41 run at the trials for these championships to register 50.68. It is a time which would have placed her seventh in the women’s flat 400m final which took place just a few minutes before this showpiece unfolded.
It’s not so long ago that the women’s 400m hurdles world record had stood at 52.34, a mark which had lasted 16 years. During 2019, Dalilah Muhammad broke it twice and lowered it to 52.16 in winning the last edition of the World Championships, in Doha.
McLaughlin took ownership of the record last year at the US Olympic Trials, also in Eugene, with 51.90 before pushing the boundaries even further to 51.46 at the Games themselves. There is clearly comfort to be found for her at Hayward Field, as the record fell at the venue again last month, creating a clamour of expectation and a lot to live up to. The home favourite did not disappoint.
Femke Bol is a wonderful athlete and the third-fastest in history at this event, but even she could only get within 1.59 seconds of the victor – the largest winning margin ever in the women’s 400m hurdles – clocking 52.27. Muhammad, the second-fastest in history, took bronze in 53.13.
It was clear that McLaughlin was intent on producing something special as soon as the gun went, promptly neutralising the stagger of her competitors on her outside shoulder, and there was a large gap developing as she progressed around the final bend.
She admitted to being in a flow state and “just putting everything that you’ve done in practice into the race to the point where you’re just letting your body do what it does. I think the best races that I’ve ever run are the ones where I’m just free, releasing the gift that I’ve been given.”
As she came across the line, McLaughlin had two thoughts. The first was that her body was screaming with the lactic acid that was coursing through her from the effort. The second was to sit down and stay still for a moment, allowing everyone else in the stadium to do all the jumping and cheering for her.
“I was taking a moment to really just enjoy what had just taken place,” she said. “So many times the race goes by and you forget what happens. I really just wanted to sit there for a moment and soak it all in before getting into the craziness of what follows.”
Had she just run the perfect race?
“I’ll have to go back and [watch the race] and talk to my coach but I think there’s always more to improve upon,” she added, having earned $100,000 for her evening’s work. “I think we’re pushing the boundaries of our sport, especially in our event and what’s possible in this race. So I definitely think there’s always more that can be shaved off for sure.”
That sentiment may well be true for other events, too. McLaughlin admitted her future may involve doubling up with the 400m, while she also mentioned looking at the 100m hurdles. There will be discussions with her coach, Bobby Kersee, first before any decisions are made. However, McLaughlin added: “The sky’s the limit for sure.”
The two other medallists would surely concur. Asked if she had thought previously that breaking the 51-second barrier might have been possible, Muhammad answered: “I definitely thought that 50 was possible. After that race, I think 49 is possible…for Sydney.”
In that women’s 400m final, Shaunae Miller-Uibo said her farewells to the one-lap event at major championships with the outdoor world title which had thus far evaded her grasp. The Bahamian two-time Olympic champion is to turn her attentions to the 200m – and potentially combined events – but underlined her abilities over the longer discipline with a world-leading time of 49.11 to come home ahead of Dominican Republic’s Marileidy Paulino (49.60) and the national record of 49.75 from Sada Williams of Barbados.
Miller-Uibo was denied world gold in Doha three years ago by Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser – an athlete who is currently serving a two-year ban for whereabouts failures in the build-up to Oregon 2022 – and this was clearly a moment which meant a lot.
“It was my last year doing 400m and I just focused on getting gold,” said the world indoor champion, who is married to decathlete Maicel Uibo. “The times didn’t matter to me. It was all about making sure we secured the gold medal. To go out with the gold, I am very proud. That’s it for me running the 400m. The plans for me are the 200m, which has always been my first love, and getting back into that. I have run 21.7 without proper training. Once we go at it, I think we can do better. I’ll also dive into the multi-events.”
Elsewhere on the track, Olympic champion Athing Mu led the qualifiers from the women’s 800m semi-finals with 1:58.12. Tokyo silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson also progressed with 1:58.51 but her British team-mates Jemma Reekie (2:00.43) and Ellie Baker (2:02.77) did not make it through.
» To catch up with all our reports from Eugene, CLICK HERE
» To subscribe to AW magazine, CLICK HERE