In a corner of the soccer field where the athletes warm up is a blue tent that Sidney McLaughlin Levrone (23) and her entourage, about six men, must keep out of the sun. From a distance, the American star can be recognized by her large gray headphones, which she takes off just for her race. Where most athletes cross paths, barre prepares in her own private bubble, cut off from the world.
McLaughlin is one of the main attractions of the annual New York Grand Prix, a popular but intimate one-day event where mainly Americans show themselves. Her track record is impressive: world champion, Olympic champion, world record holder. She got it all done before her 23rd birthday, when she was still called McLaughlin. She later married American soccer player Andre Levrone and named him after hers.
About the author
Described by Quinn van der Velden De Volkskrant About Sports in the United States. Lives in New York.
The New Jersey woman has been unstoppable in recent years in the 400-meter hurdles. Fimic Paul, the best in Europe, among others, I tried. It’s in vain. Paul finished third at the Games in Tokyo and second at the World Championships in Eugene, USA, behind McLaughlin-Levron each time. The gap was twice as large.
The meetings on the spot were the only encounters between Bol and McLaughlin-Levrone, and they are particularly economical with their performance. On Randall’s Island, an island in the river next to Manhattan, she competed in only her second competition of the outdoor season on Saturday. Not on the 400m hurdles, but the “normal” 400m. At that distance, McLaughlin-Levron and her coach, Bobby Kersey, have found a new challenge this season.
At the Paris Diamond League, she ran her first 400m since 2018 earlier this month, setting a personal best (49.71) but also finishing second to Mariledy Paulino. McLaughlin-Lefron exploded in the first 200 metres. This could have been a deliberate strategy by Cersei, who trusts her blindly.
Things are better in New York. McLaughlin-Levron is again one-tenth off her best time (49.51) and wins this time. “I ran a little more conservatively and focused on the second part,” she says after the finale.
The world champion says the 400m is tougher than her usual hurdles. “Then I always knew where I was, but now I have to find my rhythm while racing.”
Rematch with Paul
McLaughlin-Lephron says she’s on schedule, but it’s still not clear yet. Whether she will run with or without hurdles in August at the World Championships in Budapest will be decided in less than two weeks after the American Championships. Then it will also be known if it comes from the rematch with Paul. On Friday, she won the 400m event at the European National Team Championships (49.84), but will focus on the 400m hurdles, her specialty, for the rest of the season.
The question is whether McLaughlin-Lephron can match her dominance in recent years in the 400m. “The competition is fierce,” says Jonathan Gault of leading athletics blog Let’s Run. “I think she is good enough to win world titles at this distance as well, but it may take some time for you to get used to it.”
Even more than her trophy cabinet, the 400-meter steeplechase world record series illustrates the only height McLaughlin-Levron has reached in recent years. In thirteen months, she improved her best time four times, finishing last at the World Championships in Eugene, to an astonishing 50.68. McLaughlin-Lephron became the first woman to record a time under 51 seconds.
The world record in the 400m no hurdles will become even more difficult. The impressive 47.60 has been named after Marita Koch since 1985, who then ran for East Germany. “This has been around for so long because it almost certainly involved doping,” says Gault. “Sydney is a great athlete, but even for her it would be a huge challenge.”
McLaughlin-Levron himself says he’s not going to focus on a specific time right now, and so he’s not going to focus on the world record. Progress takes time. I look at her every game.
In her rare interviews, the American usually tries to ease the pressure. “Nobody’s going to kill me if I lose,” she says in a polished but revealing video from her camp, filmed around the Diamond League in Paris. You can see how the deeply religious McLaughlin Levron reads Bible texts. She calls nerves, stress, and expectations “the little bugs that keep landing on me.” After finishing second, she asked her husband, “Are you proud of me?”
Dedicated to the highest level in the world
Uncertainty seemed to creep up on the great world record holder. Not surprisingly, says Gault. “Don’t forget that she has been in the spotlight since she was a teenager.” The sprinter was known early on as a super talent, destined for the global top: When she qualified for the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, she was just 16 years old. “Then, when you’re really successful, people start expecting you to win all over,” says Gault. “And if you only play a few times a year, the focus on those matches will only increase.”
When the New York Grand Prix closes, kids fall over the smash barriers with excitement. Noah Lyles, world champion in the 200m, is famous, but most youngsters want a glimpse of McLaughlin Levrone. It seems that 4,000 spectators also understood that the American is rarely admired. “She picks her moments, but of course everyone would like her to walk more often,” says Gault. “This is an athlete like we’ve never seen before.”
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