Few sports stars have shot to fame as quickly as Sydney McLaughlin. The Olympic runner first captured the nation’s attention in 2016 at the Rio Olympics. She was just 16 years old when she made headlines for her performance in the 400-meter hurdles, making her the youngest runner to join Team USA at the Olympics since 1980 (via L’Officiel). Since making history at the Rio Olympics, McLaughlin has become one of the country’s biggest track stars. After graduating from high school, she’s turned her focus entirely to running. Now, she lives in Los Angeles where she trains with her coach.
With the 2020 Olympics quickly approaching, all eyes are on McLaughlin — she’s one of the U.S.’s biggest hopes for a gold medal. In fact, at the U.S. Olympic Trials, McLaughlin proved that she’s only gotten better since appearing in Rio. She ran the 400-meter hurdles in under 52 seconds, breaking the world record for the event (via The Guardian). Let’s hope she can repeat — or even improve upon — her time in Tokyo.
Interested in learning more about this sprinting superstar? Here is the untold truth of Sydney McLaughlin.
Sydney McLaughlin grew up in a family of runners
It’s easy to see where Sydney McLaughlin gets her talent for running — she comes from a family of runners. Her father, Willie, made it to the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1984 as a 400- meter runner. Her mother, Mary, was a sprinter in high school who ran the 400-meter and 800-meter races, though she had to quit when she went off to college.
Sydney’s parents encouraged her and her three siblings to get into track and field from an early age. “We got them started when they were around 8 years old,” Willie told NJ.com. “Morgan [Sydney’s sister] got things going and Taylor [Sydney’s brother] and Sydney followed in her footsteps. You could see right away that they all had talent.”
Both Sydney and Taylor proved to be excellent athletes from an early age. Taylor went on to run at the University of Michigan. It sounds like track and field literally runs in the McLaughlin family’s genes.
Sydney McLaughlin made history as a 16-year-old runner at the Rio Olympics
In 2016, 16-year-old Sydney McLaughlin shot to fame as the youngest track-and-field team member in almost 40 years. As she told The Guardian, when McLaughlin first made Team USA, it felt surreal. “I was like, ‘This is not real life,'” she recalled.
McLaughlin quickly earned the nickname “Syd the Kid” in Rio. Even though McLaughlin didn’t make it to the final for the 400-meter hurdles, she did make a name for herself as an up-and-coming track star.
For McLaughlin, the sudden rise to fame was a shock to the system, but it opened her eyes to a whole new world of professional running. “It was a whirlwind of an experience,” she told People. “Definitely not something I was expecting to do that summer, but it was just such a great opportunity to really have a peek into the life that I wanted for myself and my pro career.” Let’s hope that at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, McLaughlin can use her experience to rise to the top.
Sydney McLaughlin is in a relationship with this former NFL star
Love a good power couple? It doesn’t get much better than Sydney McLaughlin and Andre Levrone Jr. McLaughlin has been dating this ex-NFL star since as far back as December 2020, when Levrone Jr. posted a sweet selfie of the couple on Instagram with the caption “Heaven sent.” Since then, the star has posted numerous Instagram stories with McLaughlin, often calling her his “sunflower.” In one story that showed the pair working out on the track, he wrote, “Your motivation, your wisdom, and your unconditional love help make the sport fun again.” It looks like McLaughlin and her boyfriend share a love of sports — McLaughlin even seems to have helped Levrone Jr. fall in love with sports again after his retirement. How adorable!
And athletics isn’t the only thing this couple has in common: As evident from their Instagram bios, both McLaughlin and Levrone Jr. take their faith extremely seriously. By the looks of things, this couple could not be any better suited — or any cuter!
This is why Sydney McLaughlin almost quit running after the Rio Olympics
Anyone who has seen Sydney McLaughlin race around the track clearing hurdle after hurdle probably can’t imagine her doing anything else — it looks like exactly what she was born to do. However, there was a period in McLaughlin’s life when she seriously contemplated saying goodbye to the track forever. Coming home from Rio without a medal wasn’t easy for McLaughlin. She had an adrenaline crash that has been dubbed “post-Olympic depression,” while she dealt with online harassment and real-life bullies back at high school. She told L’Officiel, “There was jealousy from other girls because of the experience I had, and it became a lot — to the point where it made me not want to run track anymore.”
The pressure and attention are a lot for a teen to handle. In fact, McLaughlin is not the only Olympian who’s experienced bullying in the past. It’s easy to see why she began to resent running. However, her parents kept her on track — both literally and figuratively — by helping her to focus on the positives of her talent for running.
Eventually, McLaughlin used her experience to help others. As her teammate Allyson Felix told Time, “I’ve enjoyed watching her learn to use … her platform to advocate against bullying.”
Sydney McLaughlin partners with brands that she loves
For Olympic athletes, it’s not exactly difficult to nab a few brand deals. While some athletes can be accused of selling out, Sydney McLaughlin is careful to partner with brands that she really loves and believes in. For the 2020 Olympics, McLaughlin joined forces with designer watch brand TAG Heuer. As she said in a statement about the partnership, “Our shared passion for high performance, mental strength and the ‘Don’t crack under pressure’ spirit made this a natural and authentic match.”
McLaughlin has also joined forces with the sportswear brand New Balance. As she explained to People, she didn’t have to think hard about becoming a brand ambassador, as she had loved the brand since her high school days. “They’ve been so gracious and so loving ever since then,” she said. “So really just being able to partner with them for my pro career, it just makes sense.”
Sydney McLaughlin is a devout Christian
Sydney McLaughlin isn’t shy about discussing her Christian faith. In 2016, she told the Catholic News Agency, “Sticking to what I know and believing that everything I’ve been given comes from God definitely played a big role for me.” She added that she always trusted that God had a plan for her, and this belief helped her to persevere in training and in races. After her record-breaking race at the Tokyo Olympic Trials, she told FloTrack that her faith played an even bigger role in her running than ever before. “I really cannot do anything more but give the glory to him at this point,” she said.
McLaughlin is also vocal about her faith on social media. In fact, she has numerous Instagram posts that include passages from the Bible and words about the importance of her faith. In her post following her record-breaking race, she wrote, “Jesus has given me everything.” In another post from 2021, she wrote, “Especially in a world full of inconsistency, it’s such a breath of fresh air to find true stability in Jesus.” It’s clear that faith is a huge part of McLaughlin’s life — in both her running career and her everyday life.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Sydney McLaughlin switched coaches
For Olympic athletes, switching coaches is a pretty big deal. It means taking on a new right-hand man (or woman) and completely transforming the training plan. In 2020, Sydney McLaughlin took a leap of faith in Bob Kersee and enlisted him as her new coach, just one year before the Tokyo Olympics. Kersee, as L’Officiel reported, was also a 400-meter hurdler back in the day.
By the looks of things, the new coach has been the perfect fit for McLaughlin. In an interview with NBC at the 2021 Olympic trials, she explained that Kersee’s unconventional approach had involved shorter sprints with hurdles to build endurance. “Having that childlike faith… Bobby’s really good at that and I’m really happy I chose to go with him,” she said.
In another interview for FloTrack, McLaughlin explained that a lot of people thought the shorter hurdle runs in training seemed counterproductive; however, she’s always understood that it’s all about building strength — based on her record-breaking race at the Olympic Trials, it’s clear the Kersee is the right coach for McLaughlin.
Sydney McLaughlin broke the world record at the U.S. Olympic Trials
The U.S. Olympic Trials are always seen as a good indication of which athletes are the ones to watch at the upcoming Games. In 2021, few American runners made as many headlines as Sydney McLaughlin. Expectations for the young star were already high, but she certainly proved that she would be one of the country’s highest hopes for a gold medal.
At her trial 400-meter hurdle race, McLaughlin not only came in first, but she also broke the world record. In the dramatic race, she overtook the world record holder, Dalilah Muhammad, in the last 100 meters of the race before pulling away and winning easily. With a time of 51.90 seconds, McLaughlin became the first woman ever to run the race in under 52 seconds.
In an interview with NBC after the race, she couldn’t even believe what she had done. “I couldn’t ask for anything more,” she said. McLaughlin and Muhammad are set to compete again in Tokyo, where they’ll continue to push each other to do their best.
Sydney McLaughlin was something of a child prodigy
Even before Sydney McLaughlin made waves at the Rio Olympics, she was already well-known for her speed. In fact, anyone who saw her race as a child knew that she was special. She was winning races from the time she was 6 years old — and winning by a long, long stretch.
In her first hurdles race, McLaughlin was going off pure instinct, hitting hurdles, misstepping, and overshooting her jumps. “There was no form whatsoever,” her high school coach Mike McCabe told Bleacher Report. Nevertheless, she always won. Her first-ever time was 1:01.4, which broke every school record.
Within just a few months of training, the 14-year-old McLaughlin was running the 400-meter hurdle at just 55.63 seconds, which was the ninth-fastest recorded time in the entire country that year. Just like that, she solidified her place in history as a child prodigy. It’s clear that McLaughlin was destined to be a legendary hurdler.
Allyson Felix was a lifelong inspiration for Sydney McLaughlin
Allyson Felix has been one of America’s biggest track stars for years. She won her first Olympic medal in 2004 when she was just 18 years old. Sydney McLaughlin was just a child at the time, so it’s only natural that McLaughlin would grow up idolizing her.
As the up-and-coming star told Today, “I looked up to Allyson the whole time I was growing up and watching track.” In another interview from 2018 for ThePostGame, McLaughlin said that Felix was her role model.
Now, McLaughlin and her idol actually train together. They even share the same coach, Bob Kersee, so McLaughlin really can learn from Felix every day. “I learn so much — every day of practice — just being out there and watching how she handles things,” McLaughlin said in a 2016 interview for NBC during the Rio Olympics. “It’s been a really great experience being around both her and Bobby… [I’m trying to] soak up as much as I can as she’s at the end of her career.”
Here's how Sydney McLaughlin prepared herself for the Tokyo Olympics
It goes without saying that preparing for the Olympics is no easy feat. For Sydney McLaughlin, every day is carefully structured in the run up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
As she explained to People, she typically wakes up at 7 a.m. every morning and gets to the track by 9:30 a.m. In a YouTube video from January 2021, McLaughlin revealed that she sometimes trains by jogging and sprinting on the streets of Los Angeles with her coach and fellow Team USA runner Allyson Felix. After two hours of practice, she’ll have a snack before heading to the weight room. “I lift for around an hour to an hour and a half,” she told People. After that, there may be some form of treatment from a physiotherapist, which can last for up to two hours.
Finally, she typically grabs some dinner and then rests — “until I do it all again the next day,” she added. That is one intense schedule!
Sydney McLaughlin relies on a few superstitious items at every race
While Sydney McLaughlin may not strike you as being particularly superstitious, there are a few special sentimental items that she always insists on bringing with her to every race. “I have a Minions blanket that I’ve had since I was about maybe 15 and I take it with me to every single race,” she told People. “And that mixed with just my Beats headphones and my New Balances slides,” she said, adding, “Having literally those three things as I’m going to the track, I know it’s going to be a good day.”
In a 2019 interview with PopSugar, McLaughlin opened up about another pre-race ritual that she can’t do without. Apparently, she needs to eat gummy bears the day before every race. “It’s just … I enjoy them,” she said simply.
We can totally see how having a few familiar items helps McLaughlin feel a little more comfortable at an unfamiliar track.
Here's what Sydney McLaughlin eats to stay in shape
It’s no surprise that an Olympian like Sydney McLaughlin has to pay close attention to her diet. In a 2021 YouTube video, the track star revealed all of her favorite foods to eat while training. In the video, she and her friend make a root vegetable rosti made with sweet potato, carrots, and onions served with avocados and eggs.
In an interview for ESPN, McLaughlin shared another go-to recipe: buffalo chicken pizza on pita bread. Made with peppers, spinach, and cream cheese, this is another healthy take on comfort food.
It looks like McLaughlin has learned how to keep her diet tasty and healthy at the same time — but she wasn’t always quite so good at healthy eating. As she told Yahoo! News In 2016, “I’m the most unhealthy eater there is. I’ll be eating junk food the night before a race, before a race, after a race.” Hey, whatever works.
Track and field has given Sydney McLaughlin a powerful metaphor for life
By the sounds of things, being an Olympic track runner has taught Sydney McLaughlin some important life lessons — namely, that you need to focus on your own journey without comparing yourself to others. “If you’re fixated on the person next to you, you’re not keeping your eyes on the hurdles in your lane, and I think the key to having your own successful career is focusing on your own success,” she told L’Officiel. “Look at what’s in front of you, because everyone’s journeys are different.”
It seems that McLaughlin has fully embraced this philosophy when it comes to her own career. As she told The Guardian in 2020, her focus is never on winning races and beating other people — it’s about beating her own times. “I try to be better each year than I was the last,” she said. With such a healthy approach to life, we’re sure that this is only the beginning of McLaughlin’s running career.
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