Olympic gold medallist Sydney McLaughlin won the Women’s 400 metres hurdles gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021. At just 22 years of age this brilliant young athlete also broke her own world record for the event in that same Olympic Games. Surely this is the best thing to happen in her short life so far? Surprisingly she says there is something even better.
Sydney is the daughter of another track and field athlete, Willie McLaughlin, who reached the a semi-finals in the Men’s 400m at the US trials for the 1984 Olympic Games. Sydney’s mother was also a runner in her youth.
McLaughlin has been training for the Olympic prize for many years. She placed a close second behind Shamier Little at the US Junior (under-20) Championships in 2014 with a time of 55.63, which was both a national high school record and the world best time for age 14. She would have qualified for the World Junior Championships if she had been a year older. She also set the world best for her age group at the 100 metres hurdles that same year.
Sydney was named the Gatorade National Female Athlete of the Year in both the 2015–2016 and 2016–2017 seasons. She was the first athlete to receive the award two years running. At the age of 17 she was on the cover of the prestigious Sports Illustrated — and the magazine said that “she ranks as one of the most dominant high school athletes ever.”
During the 2021 Summer Olympics, the internet was buzzing with excitement at both her outstanding achievement and her silence. Whilst it is usual for competitors to make regular comments, she said nothing throughout the days at the Olympics when she broke her own world record and won the 400m gold medal. Then finally, she broke her silence. But her comments were not quite what the media was expecting. Sydney wrote an instagram post giving praise and thanks to God. This is what she wrote:
“Let me start off by saying, what and honour it is to be able to represent not only my country, but also the kingdom of God. What I have in Christ is far greater than what I have or don’t have in life. I pray my journey may be a clear depiction of submission and obedience to God. Even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it doesn’t seem possible, He will make a way out of no way. Not for my own gratification, but for His glory. I have never seen God fail in my life. In anyone’s life for that matter. Just because I may not win every race, or receive every one of my heart’s desires, does not mean God had failed. His will is PERFECT. And He has prepared me for a moment such
as this. That I may use the gifts He has given me to point all the attention back to Him.
2x Olympian, Olympic Champion, World Record Holder. Thank You God.”
Referring to her silence, she later told the New York Times,
“I think when you have a lot of outside voices coming in, it can definitely alter what you have going on internally. The more I can distance myself from that, the more I can stay as calm and as relaxed as possible.”
Her discipline certainly paid off. Only a month after she set a new world record in the 2021 US Olympic Trials, she set it again in the legendary semi-final race with US team mate Dalilah Muhammad. Sydney’s world-record time of 51.46 seconds and Dalilah’s time of 51.58, both set in that race, are the two fastest times in the history of the women’s 400 metres event.
This brilliant young athlete has approaching a million followers on Instagram. Her Instagram biography says, “Jesus saved me.” She also posts about her faith regularly on Twitter where her profile says “Saved by grace.” In November 2020 she posted a video of her baptism in the ocean at a beach in Los Angeles. He comment was,
“For twenty-one years I was running from the greatest gift I could ever receive. And by His grace, I have been saved. I no longer live, but Christ in me. My past has been made clean because of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
Sydney’s major achievements in the 400 metres hurdles are:
2015 World Youth Championships, 1st (Gold), 55.94 Seconds
2016 Olympic Games, 16th, 56.22
2019 World Championships, 2nd, (Silver), 52.23
2021 Olympic Games, 1st, (Gold), 51.46 (Olympic Record & World Record)
Her achievements in the 4×400 metres relay at major events are
2019 World Championships, 1st (Gold), 3:18.92 (total team time)
2021 Olympic Games, 1st (Gold), 3:16.85 (total team time)
Story by Ralph Burden
* photo attribution: Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License.