Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone has fashioned a way to bend athletics to suit herself, and it’s working!


Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone last ran in the women’s 400m Hurdles on August 8th, 2022. Almost two years later, the world record holder in the event decided she was going to break the duck by running her first race in her signature event at a meet in downtown Atlanta—The HBCU Classic at the Edwin Moses Track. In between two Diamond League meets in Oslo and Stockholm, she chose to meet the Olympic Standard at a track at Morehouse College.

 That in itself tells you all you need to know about McLaughlin-Levrone. Quality over quantity. Maybe a large chunk of the decision on where she races is up to her coach- Bobby Kersee, but you can’t help but see the strategy behind every time she competes. On and off the track, she finds a way to control the crowd, and here wasn’t different. Morehouse College isn’t used to this kind of numbers in the stands, but people churned out in their droves just to see this maverick of a human race. Her race was the main course on the menu.

Sydney McLaughlin and her family,
USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, June 23-26, 2022, photo by Kevin Morris

It’s already a fact that McLaughlin-Levrone is a phenomenon. The athletics world is in thrall to her. Quiet and unassuming, her superstar status exudes the fact that she doesn’t even compete in a blue riband event, yet people will pay top dollar to watch her race. Her allure and demeanor as a person and an athlete can be rarely matched on the grid and, no doubt, she will be the star attraction in Paris.

Here in Atlanta, though, McLaughlin-Levrone was long gone after the second hurdle, and as she has been used to for most of her career, running alone can even be more of a difficult task in front of a crowd who is used to cheering her on from the get-go. “I’m used to the expectation and the pressure; I just try to use it to motivate me and get me to run fast.”

Sydney McLaughlin, 400m hurdles, just prior to the final, photo by Kevin Morris

As she approached the home straight, a wider lead had built up. It was her against the clock. The cheers got louder, and a standing ovation had already begun to grow. It was as if the clock stood still while all this was happening. Regardless, she returned a time of 52.70s to take the win. This is the fastest time in the world, a full second better than the next-best runner, Russell Clayton, who ran 53.72 in early May.

Granted, the defending World Champion Femke Bol will likely lower it in a few days, but reducing McLaughlin-Levrone to just numbers is akin to eating just the ear of a fat cow. Some intangibles make her special, some even beyond reasoning. She captured the public imagination like few others in the sport. She runs into the ground like every other professional, and the fans, like fans everywhere, love that. She is blessed with supreme technical ability on the track, too.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, New Balance Indoor Grand Prix Track & Field
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
February 3, 2023
World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting, photo by Kevin Morris

There is something intoxicating about someone so young carrying all before them and doing it with grace and panache. McLaughlin-Levrone has taken to track like someone to the manner born. She steps out on whatever stage and delivers a masterclass. They say that the Olympic Champion did that and more to seize the day. At 24, she already has a lot of feathers on her cap. The stand-out are the World champions, Olympic champions, and World Record holders. Her ability and popularity transcend national pride. Her coach, Kersee, who rarely comes out to meet and is known to be very fierce, says this race was just a practice race for her.

Sydney McLaughlin moves to the semi final World Athletics Championships
Eugene, Oregon, USA
July15-26, 2022
400 m hurdles, McLaughlin, USA, New Balance, photo by Kevin Morris

Her mindset and attitude to the sport are worthy of applause. Over the years, McLaughlin-Levrone has shown maturity and spoken with wisdom and assurance beyond her years. Her appearance in front of the media has been carefully rationed and has struck a balance between knowing when to talk, race, and show up. It’s a combination very few sports stars have managed to do. On the track, the brilliance of her performance has made her a superstar. Off it, she has the charisma and confidence that makes her a natural communicator.

Ultimately, she is grateful for her gift. She knows how to thread the line between being sure of herself and being arrogant with great assurance. Also, she’s not scared to admit vulnerability.  People have become accustomed to always seeing her run great times. “The numbers are possible (breaking another world record), but it’s a matter of getting there. As an athlete, people don’t understand that you will not always come out of the gates ready to do that all the time”.

Sydney McLaughlin, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, June 23-26, 2022, photo by Kevin Morris

Beyond the cameras, flashlight, crowd, and grandeur, McLaughlin-Levrone is about guts as well as the glory. For now, all that matters is the Olympic trials, and then she shifts focus to Paris.