Sydney McLaughlin on her way to breaking the world 400m hurdles record in Oregon (© Getty Images)
Hands up if you saw this one coming. Not so much that Sydney McLaughlin would win gold in the 400m hurdles, adding the world title to her Olympic gold, and not just that she would break her own world record in Friday’s final, but that the 22-year-old US superstar would break through an inconceivable, unfathomable barrier of 51 seconds for running one lap of the track and clearing 10 barriers – and not just break it, but utterly obliterate it.
Let’s just leave that time there, sitting on its own, because that’s what it will now do on the all-time lists – by some distance the most spectacular performance to date at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
It’s a performance that will be looked at by all other 400m hurdlers, and indeed fans of the sport, as something out of this world, and that’s exactly what it is – to everyone but Sydney McLaughlin. Because ever since her early teens, this is an athlete who’s been an outlier among outliers, a woman who’s taken what is implausible to others and made it seem routine. A native of New Jersey, she’s been shredding all-time best marks for the past nine years.
McLaughlin holds the world 400m hurdles bests at every age from 14 to 19. She holds the world U18 record at 54.18 – no one has ever got within a second of it. She holds the fastest ever time by an U20 athlete at 52.75 – no one has got within 1.5 seconds of that.
And with a peerless, near-perfect performance at Hayward Field on Friday night, she again broke the senior world record for the third time in 12 months, her best mark now nine tenths of a second ahead of the next fastest in history – which equates to seven metres on the track.
Out there on her own – as it has so long been.
Silver went to Femke Bol of the Netherlands in 52.27, with bronze going to the previous world champion Dalilah Muhammad of USA in 53.13. USA’s Shamier Little was fourth in 53.76.
After the race, McLaughlin sat on the track for considerable time. There were two reasons. “I was just trying to process the lactic acid,” she said, “and I was taking a moment to enjoy what had happened.”
Later in the night, her fellow medallists were asked if they thought 50.68 was a time they ever thought possible. “I definitely thought 50 was possible, and after that race I think 49 is possible – by Sydney,” laughed Muhammad.
How close was it to the perfect race?
“I think there’s always more to improve upon,” said McLaughlin. “There’s always more than can be shaven off, for sure. There’s no such thing as a perfect race, but I don’t think that was a super-clean race.”
McLaughlin felt like she was in a “flow state” during those 50 seconds where she was “putting everything you’ve done in practice into the race, just letting your body do what it does – releasing the gifts and talents that God’s given you.”
What does the future hold after a performance like that?
McLaughlin said it could take any direction, either to a new event like the 400m or 100m hurdles or a possible double at the Paris Olympics, but she plans to heed the advice of her coach, Bobby Kersee.
“There’s talk of doubles, talks of switching,” she said. “Honestly, I have no clue.”
There was more success for the home crowd to cheer in the men’s 400m where Michael Norman achieved what has long seemed his destiny: a global title. The 24-year-old had to come through one hell of a scrap to get it, though.
Kirani James ripped through the opening 200m in 20.95, with Norman a step behind at that point in 21.12, but as they turned for home the US sprinter launched his attack. He battled to the front just ahead of James, Matthew Hudson-Smith of Britain and Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa, whose challenge fell away over the last 50 metres – the world record-holder finishing fifth in 44.97.
Norman’s technique became a little ragged as he fought fatigue down the home straight, but he held on to win in 44.29, with James second in 44.48 and Hudson-Smith taking bronze in 44.66. USA’s Champion Allison finished fourth in 44.77.
“It took a lot of work to get where I was,” said Norman. “Obviously last year was not a good year for me so I had to do a lot of hard work just to kind of get back to where I was. This moment here is going to be remembered forever.”
Shaunae Miller-Uibo claimed her first world outdoor title with a dominant performance in the women’s 400m, though the look on the Bahamian’s face at the finish was more relief than elation.
The two-time Olympic champion utilised her rapid speed to shoot to the lead at halfway, but she had company coming off the turn with Sada Williams of Barbados just a step behind along with Marileidy Paulino of Dominican Republic.
However, Miller-Uibo showed her class down the straight and opened an advantage that was growing with every stride as she hit the line in a world-leading 49.11, with Paulino taking silver in 49.60 and Williams becoming the first ever Barbadian woman to earn a World Championships medal in third with a national record of 49.75. Lieke Klaver of the Netherlands was fourth with 50.33.
“The times didn't matter to me, it was all about making sure we secured the gold medal,” said Miller-Uibo. “That's one thing we were missing.”
In the women’s javelin, Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber retained her world title with a dominant performance, launching a world-leading 66.91m in the third round to seize command. No one else came close to that, but there was still some last-round drama in the battle for the minor medals.
China’s Liu Shiying went into it in second place with the 63.25m she threw in the fourth round but was suddenly demoted to fourth, with Japan’s Haruka Kitaguchi throwing 63.27m to move into second, but in the end that only proved good enough for bronze. That was because USA’s Kara Winger found something special when it mattered, her 64.05m in the final round raising the roof at Hayward Field and handing her silver.
“I always believed I have the capacity to go back to back,” said Barber. “I am cementing my place as one of the world's best javelin throwers and I want to keep building on that. This season has been trial and error a little bit. Today was always the goal. I am quite pleased with the way I performed.”
The women’s 800m semi-finals saw Olympic champion Athing Mu of USA, Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson and Kenya’s Mary Moraa all advance to the final with victories. Moraa used front-running tactics to advance in 1:59.65 ahead of USA’s Ajee Wilson. Hodgkinson utilised her typical strong finish to edge Jamaica’s Natoya Goule in 1:58.51, with USA’s Raevyn Rogers also advancing in third with 1:58.77. Mu looked majestic while winning the third semi-final in 1:58.12, with Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji also highly impressive in second with a PB of 1:58.16. “I feel there's a lot left in the tank,” said Mu. “I felt really comfortable.” Slovenia’s former 400m runner Anita Horvat had a breakthrough in third, her PB of 1:59.60 advancing her to the final on time.
In the men’s 4x100m heats, a strong USA quartet of Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Elijah Hall and Marvin Bracy were highly impressive in winning in 37.87, and they should prove tough to stop with the same line-up expected in the final.
The British quartet followed them home in 38.49, while Ghana claimed the third automatic position in 38.58, with Japan and Nigeria both disqualified for changing the baton outside the zone. France claimed victory in the second heat in 38.09 ahead of Canada (38.10) and South Africa (38.31), with Jamaica advancing on time in fourth, clocking 38.33 after a botched second exchange that nearly cost them dearly. Brazil finished fifth in 38.41 and also advanced on time.
USA was also highly impressive in the women’s 4x100m heats, their quartet of Melissa Jefferson, Aleia Hobbs, Jenna Prandini and Twanisha Terry taking victory in 41.56 ahead of Spain, who clocked a national record of 42.61, with Nigeria taking the third automatic spot in 42.68. Italy set a national record of 42.71 to advance in fourth with Switzerland also qualifying in fifth with 42.73. Great Britain and Northern Ireland took the win in the first heat in 41.99, with Jamaica second in 42.37 and Germany third in 42.44.
Mondo Duplantis made no mistake in pole vault qualification, advancing to the final with ease after his first-time clearance at 5.75m. Poland’s Piotr Lisek was an early casualty after three failures at 5.65m, while 2016 Olympic champion Thiago Braz endured some nervous moments at 5.65m, clearing it on his third attempt before soaring over 5.75m to make the final. Christopher Nilsen, the only athlete besides Duplantis to clear six metres this season, made no mistake with three clearances at 5.50m, 5.65m and 5.75m to also advance.
“If I am able to jump high, then I would jump high – that would be nice but the gold is the most important for me now,” said Duplantis. “I managed to save some energy for the final. I am feeling good, I cannot complain and I am ready for the final.”
On Friday morning, Peru’s Kimberly Garcia completed a special week of race walking when she won the 35km event in a South American record of 2:39:16 to add to her gold in the 20km. Poland’s Katarzyna Zdzieblo took silver in 2:40:03 and China’s Qieyang Shijie took bronze in an Asian record of 2:40:37. It was the first time the 35km event had been held at the World Athletics Championships, and Garcia made her decisive move shortly before the 20km event.
“I have always dreamed of making history in a sport I am so passionate about and I have been practising since the age of five,” said Garcia, who’s coached by Ecuador’s 2015 Pan-American Games 50km champion Andres Chocho, who is contesting the men’s 35km on Sunday. “I can't wait to celebrate with my family when I arrive home.”
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics