Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone gave a breathtaking performance at Hayward Field, kneeling just past the finish line, her hand covering her mouth in shock as her eyes locked onto the television screen. She has just shattered her own 400-meter hurdles world record—her fifth since June 2021.

“I couldn’t believe it,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “I wasn’t expecting that time at all.”

At the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday, McLaughlin-Levrone shattered expectations in her signature event. She outran eight of the nation’s top 400-meter hurdlers, finishing in 50.65 seconds. This time shaved three hundredths of a second off her previous record and was nearly two seconds faster than any other runner in the world this year.

To appreciate McLaughlin-Levrone’s achievement, consider that her time was faster than four of the nine women in the open 400-meter finals at the Trials, a race without hurdles.

“She broke the world record, and we’re not even surprised anymore,” said Dalilah Muhammad, the 2016 Olympic champion and the last person to beat McLaughlin-Levrone in a 400 hurdles race. “She’s an extraordinary talent, truly one of a kind.”

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This new record solidifies McLaughlin-Levrone as the favorite to retain her Olympic title this summer in Paris. Her dominance is comparable to Tiger Woods in golf, Serena Williams in tennis, and Michael Phelps in swimming.

Jasmine Jones, a USC senior who finished third in Sunday’s 400 hurdles final, called McLaughlin-Levrone “an inspiration” and said she prepared for the season by reading the world record holder’s autobiography. Competing alongside McLaughlin-Levrone made Jones feel that her idol was more approachable.

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McLaughlin-Levrone’s potential was clear even before she could drive. By age 16, the New Jersey native had already won her first Gatorade high school athlete of the year award, set high school records, and made her first U.S. Olympic team.

One of the few current 400-meter hurdlers to have beaten McLaughlin-Levrone is Shamier Little, a fellow U.S. Trials finalist. Little won at Junior Nationals when McLaughlin-Levrone was a 14-year-old prodigy.

 

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Unlike many teen phenoms who fail to meet expectations, McLaughlin-Levrone has consistently excelled. When she turned pro after her freshman year at Kentucky, Dalilah Muhammad had just begun running under 53 seconds. McLaughlin-Levrone built on that success, inspiring a generation of young hurdlers to run 52s and 53s alongside her.

Her competitors attribute her greatness to a combination of speed, endurance, and hurdling technique. Earlier this season, McLaughlin-Levrone ran the 200 meters in 22.07 seconds and the open 400 in a world-leading 48.75 seconds, qualifying her for the Olympics in either event had she chosen to compete in both.

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“I prefer to focus on one event,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “I like to perfect one thing at a time.”

How fast could McLaughlin-Levrone run in Paris?

“I think she can break 49,” Muhammad said.

McLaughlin-Levrone acknowledged this long-term goal, adding that she believes there is room for improvement in her technique, which could lead to even faster times.

“There’s something thrilling about figuring out how to surpass history,” she said on Sunday.