Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone shows anything’s possible for her at Paris Olympics and beyond

Follow our Olympics coverage in the lead-up to the Paris Games.

Victory was well secured by the time Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone rounded the corner before the final straightaway at Icahn Stadium in New York. She’d blown through the stagger of the 400-meter race at the NYC Grand Prix on Sunday and ended any hope for the other seven runners in the field. All that remained was making Sanya Richards-Ross sweat.

McLaughlin-Levrone declared before the race she was aiming for the American record. And as she glided down the final 100 meters, resisting the Manhattan wind, she almost got it. She clocked in at 48.75 seconds, just shy of Richards-Ross’ national record of 48.70 set in 2006.

“So close,” McLaughlin-Levrone told reporters afterwards. “But you know what, it’s all good. There’s so much time to do that. It’s always just about refining it and learning the race.”

It was the fastest time by anyone this season in the 400 — on her first time competing in this discipline in 11 months. This isn’t even her best event. It was the second time in three weekends that McLaughlin-Levrone competed in an event that was not her specialty and walked away with the reigning best time in the world this year.

Sunday was further proof of how McLaughlin-Levrone could do whatever she wants in the sprint universe. So much so, the natural inclination is to want her to do it all.

Sunday, she blew away the field in the 400-meter race — her first time competing in this discipline in 11 months. Three weekends ago, at the Los Angeles Grand Prix, she ran the 200-meter dash in 22.07 seconds — three-tenths of a second better than her time from two weeks earlier and the second-best time in the world this year. Before this May, per World Athletics, she hadn’t run the 200 since 2018.

She’s currently slated for one event at the USA Olympic Trials later this month: the 400-meter hurdles, for which she owns the world record. She is the reigning Olympic champion in the event, and her showdown with Femke Bol of the Netherlands promises to be one of the most riveting sprint battles in Paris.

But watching McLaughlin-Levrone in one race is like circling just one block in a luxury rental car. Like having but one scoop of your favorite ice cream.

She’ll likely be on a relay in Paris as well. But her infrequency only generates demand. She is arguably the most dominant and also the most mysterious. Though definitely among the most talented, she’s also among the most judicious with it.

She has the qualities of an all-time great with the potential to accomplish deifying feats. But one of the fastest women in the world is executing a patient pursuit of historic glory.

Her performance at the NYC Grand Prix might prompt pressure to add the 400 meters to the 400 hurdles at the trials and go for the double. The 400-meter races are spread over the first three days of the Olympic trials — held June 21-30 at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field — with the hurdles commencing on Day 7. At the Paris Olympics, the heats, semifinals and finals for each event are on alternating days from Aug. 4-9.

She said if she did something crazy in New York, it might prompt her to add the 400 meters at the trials.

“I don’t think I’d count that as crazy,” she told reporters, flashing her million-watt smile.

A double isn’t without risk. An injury in the 400 meters would jeopardize her best event, the 400-meter hurdles — the final event of the trials. She already missed the world championships in August because of injury. Plus, she’s never run the flat 400 meters under the pressure of international stakes. The first time coming at the Olympics would be a daunting challenge.

But McLaughlin-Levrone is so captivating that she makes us crave more from the living legend. One of the faces of New Balance, she’s a model athlete, as reputed for her character and affability as her speed.

Sha’Carri Richardson might end up the biggest name in track and field, and she has the vibrant personality to match her explosiveness. Noah Lyles has a similar magnetism. He dominated the 200-meter race (19.77 seconds) in the NYC Grand Prix.

But McLaughlin-Levrone is a superstar in her own right. Her wholesome graciousness has its own appeal. Her limited presence increases demand. And her smooth running style is its own form of breathtaking.

She has two gold medals from Tokyo, one in the 400-meter hurdles and one in the 4×400-meter relas. A repeat performance would give her four gold medals just days after her 25th birthday.

Carl Lewis has the American record with nine gold medals in track and field. Allyson Felix totaled 11 medals, seven gold, in her illustrious career — the most for any track and field athlete. When McLaughlin-Levrone is done, she could be the most decorated Olympian in American track and field history.

That’s why, though track fans would love to see her more, her choreographing of this long play is interesting. She’s appeared in five events in 2024 and run in five disciplines. All of it is but preparation for the 400-meter hurdles, working on the various elements to peak in time to defend her crown in her build-up to the trials. But in doing so, she only flexed the variety of her options.

It is not a crazy thought for her to go for the 400 double in Paris and then turn around and go for the 200-meter/100-meter double in Los Angeles in 2028. She could go for the 100-meter hurdles or even switch to the 800 meters if she wanted. She’s that good.

McLaughlin-Levrone is running her own race. Pun intended. In a sport where accolades translate to revenue, in a country where track stardom has a shelf life, she seems to have no interest in microwaving her grandeur. She’s on a focused, meticulous path and her talent obscures the horizon. And the scarcity of her presence means these flashes of brilliance must be savored.

(Photo of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone crossing the finish line Sunday in New York: Dustin Satloff / Getty Images)

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *