efore American Sydney McLaughlin broke the world record in the 400-m hurdles Wednesday morning in Tokyo, she tried to simplify her approach. She stayed off social media, where as a high school student McLaughlin was the target of online harassment. She remained in her room—which isn’t difficult here in Tokyo, where strict COVID-19 protocols are still in place. She only spoke to family and friends.
Pressure, says McLaughlin, “is a weight that you put on yourself that doesn’t really exist. It’s the fear of something that hasn’t happened yet.” Pressure is just an “illusion.”
It sure looked that way on Wednesday. With a burden on McLaughlin to carry her sport into the future, she delivered a thrilling finish to remember. She tracked down teammate Dalilah Muhammad, the defending Olympic and world champion in the final 40-m sprint to break her own record and win Olympic gold. She finished with a time of 51.46 seconds. At 21, she’s the youngest gold medal winner in history of the 400-m hurdles. Muhammad’s second-place time, 51.58 seconds, is now second-fastest time in history. Femke Bol of the Netherlands took the bronze medal; her time, 52.03 seconds, now stands as the new European record.
According to Olympic officials, McLaughlin won the 1,000th medal ever awarded Olympic track and field, dating back to 1896.
For a second straight day, the 400-m was the talk of Olympic Stadium, where track and field events are being held. For a second straight day, a world record fell. On Tuesday Norway’s Karsten Warholm smashed his own world record by 0.76 seconds, finishing in 45.94 seconds. For a second straight day, an American faced the cruel fate of running the second-fastest time in history but finishing with a silver medal (Rai Benjamin’s 46.17-second time trailed Warholm’s).
After Wednesday’s race, Muhammad refused to wallow in self-pity. “As a society, we need to celebrate all the accomplishments that are made,” she says. “Be happy with the accomplishments that you made within yourself.”