Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone lowers 400 hurdles world record again for fifth time in three-plus years

McLaughlin-Levrone's jaw-dropping times are faster than all but a handful of the nation’s top runners in the open 400.

EUGENE, Ore. — Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone knelt a few steps past the Hayward Field finish line, her eyes trained on the video board and her right hand covering her mouth in shock.

The time she saw next to her name confirmed that she had just lowered her world record in the 400-meter hurdles for the fifth time since June 2021.

“I was just like, ‘There’s no way,’” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “Honestly, I wasn’t expecting that time.”

McLaughlin-Levrone continued her assault against preconceived notions of what is achievable in her signature race, pulling away from eight of America’s fastest 400-meter hurdlers at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday. She streaked across the finish line in 50.65 seconds, three hundredths of a second faster than her previous world record and nearly two seconds faster than anyone else in the world had run the 400 hurdles this year.

To put McLaughlin-Levrone’s jaw-dropping time into proper perspective, consider that it isn’t just 400-meter hurdlers who can’t keep pace with her. McLaughlin-Levrone ran faster on Sunday than four of the nine women who competed in the open 400 finals at Trials last weekend. That’s the race without 10 hurdles.

“She just broke the world record, and it’s like we’re not even shocked anymore,” said Dalilah Muhammad, the 2016 Olympic champion and the last person to beat McLaughlin-Levrone in a 400 hurdles race. “She’s just an amazing talent, a generational talent."

The world-record time further entrenches McLaughlin-Levrone as the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Olympic champion later this summer in Paris. McLaughlin-Levrone is the most dominant athlete in her sport, what Tiger Woods was to golf, what Serena Williams was to tennis, what Michael Phelps was to swimming.

EUGENE, OREGON - JUNE 30: Gold medalist Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone poses with her new world record in the women's 400 meter hurdles final on Day Ten of the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Track & Field Trials at Hayward Field on June 30, 2024 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone poses with her new world record in the women's 400 meter hurdles final at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Track & Field Trials. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Jasmine Jones, the USC senior who finished third in Sunday’s 400 hurdles final, described McLaughlin-Levrone as “an inspiration” and said that she prepared for this season by reading the world record holder’s autobiography. For Jones, lining up in the blocks alongside McLaughlin-Levrone “humanized” the athlete she grew up idolizing.

It was a similar experience for Akala Garrett, the Texas freshman who was seventh in Sunday’s 400 hurdles final. Garrett said she was “starstruck” warming up next to McLaughlin-Levrone and she had to fight the urge to ask for a picture.

“The focus and belief in herself that she has, I want that for myself,” Garrett said.

McLaughlin-Levrone has been marked for world domination since before she was old enough to legally drive a car. By 16, the New Jersey native had already claimed her first Gatorade high school athlete of the year award, rewritten the high school record book and made her first U.S. Olympic team.

One of the few current 400-meter hurdlers who knows how it feels to beat McLaughlin-Levrone is fellow U.S. Trials finalist Shamier Little. The margin at Junior Nationals was a whopping two tenths of a second when Little was a rising sophomore at Texas A&M and McLaughlin-Levrone was a precocious 14-year-old kid.

In a sport littered with teen phenoms who failed to live up to their hype, McLaughlin has proven to be the exception. When McLaughlin-Levrone turned pro after her freshman year at Kentucky, Muhammad had just started to bust through old barriers by dipping under 53 seconds. McLaughlin-Levrone took that and built on it, dragging along a generation of young hurdlers who are now starting to run 52s and 53s alongside her.

It isn’t just one trait that makes McLaughlin-Levrone great, her competitors say. It’s a combination of her speed, her speed endurance and her hurdling technique. Earlier this season, McLaughlin-Levrone ran the 200 in a blistering 22.07 seconds and the open 400 in a world-leading 48.75 seconds. She probably would have qualified for the Olympics in either of those events had she chosen to double at Trials.

“I just like to focus on one,” McLaughlin-Levrone explained Sunday. “I like to hone in on one thing and do it to the best of my ability.”

How fast could McLaughlin-Levrone run in Paris?

“I still think she can go 49,” Muhammad said.

That’s a longterm goal, McLaughlin-Levrone admitted. In a development that should terrify other 400-meter hurdlers, McLaughlin-Levrone feels that if she improves her technique, she can run even faster.

Said McLaughlin-Levrone on Sunday, “I think there’s something really exciting about figuring out how to improve upon history.”