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The beautiful thing about track and field is that your one true challenger is the clock or measuring tape.
But in the case of Sydney McLaughlin, the clock really is her only challenger.
The 22-year-old American lined up for the medal race in the women's 400 meter hurdles on Friday night at the World Athletics Championships with the second- and third-fastest women in history also running — and she left them in her wake.
Already the world record holder, McLaughlin didn't just lower that time, she utterly smashed it, running 50.68 seconds for gold. She won by more than one-and-a-half seconds, unheard of at this level of sprinting.
The Netherlands' Femke Bol was the silver medalist in 52.27, and fellow American Dalilah Muhammad the bronze medalist in 53.13.
This was the fourth time in the last 13 months McLaughlin has broken the world record: at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2021 she became the first woman to break 52 seconds in the event, clocking 51.90. She broke the record again in Tokyo (51.46 seconds) for the gold medal, then last month at the U.S. Championships (51.41 seconds), and now Friday night she broke 51 seconds, something that would have seemed impossible just three years ago.
When Muhammad broke the world record at the U.S. Championships in 2019, running 52.20, she beat a mark that had stood for nearly 16 years. And now, thanks in part to Muhammad being pushed by McLaughlin and McLaughlin becoming so technically proficient — her coach, the legendary Bobby Kersee, has had her do a great deal of work to make her comfortable going over the hurdles with either leg leading so you rarely, if ever, see her stutter her steps approaching a hurdle, which can cost precious tenths of a second and disrupt a runner's rhythm — we're seeing stunning performances on a regular basis.
To put in perspective just how incredible McLaughlin's time was: in the women's open 400 meter medal race on Friday night, her 50.68 would have been good for seventh place. McLaughlin ran that time with 10 barriers in her path.
Americans add to medal collection
Earlier in the night, American Michael Norman closed brilliantly to win gold in the men's 400, holding off former World and Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada. Norman ran 44.29, while James ran 44.48. Great Britain's Matthew Hudson-Smith won bronze in 44.66.
Norman came into this meet with the fastest time in the world this year, so he was one of the favorites, but that isn't always how things work out. He held his form and finished strong for his first major championship win.
After a poor showing at the Tokyo Olympics, the American men have rebounded big time at these Worlds, winning gold in all three open sprint races, with Norman following Fred Kerley in the 100 and Noah Lyles in the 200.
In the women's javelin, 36-year-old Kara Winger finally broke through. A veteran of numerous World and Olympic teams, Winger has made her event's final on several occasions but hadn't been able to get into the top three until Friday.
On her sixth and final attempt, Winger jumped from fourth place to second with a throw of 64.05 meters (210 feet, 1.5 inches), good for the silver medal. Australia's Kelsey-Lee Barber defended her gold medal from the 2019 Worlds with a best throw of 66.91 meters (219-6.25), and Japan's Haruka Kitaguchi won bronze (63.27m, 207-7).
McLaughlin was the first athlete to break a world record at these Championships, and she earned a $100,000 bonus from World Athletics as a result.