Sydney McLaughlin delivered a sizzling world-record breaking 400m hurdles victory as the weather-disrupted US Olympic track and field trials drew to a thrilling close in Oregon on Sunday.
The final day of the 10-day meeting in Eugene was disrupted by brutal triple-digit temperatures which blasted Hayward Field with furnace-like conditions and forced organisers to postpone afternoon events to the evening.
When the action resumed in slightly cooler temperatures on Sunday evening, it was McLaughlin who stole the show, scorching to a stunning victory in 51.90sec after an epic battle with rival Dalilah Muhammad.
The 21-year-old McLaughlin became the first woman ever to duck below the 52-second barrier after a superb tactical race against reigning Olympic and world champion Muhammad.
Muhammad—who had held the previous world record of 52.16sec following her win over McLaughlin at the 2019 World Championships in Doha—was second in 52.42sec. Anna Cockrell claimed the third qualifying spot in 53.70sec.
“I knew from the moment I woke up today that it was going to be a great day,” McLaughlin said afterwards.
“It’s one of those moments that you dream about and think about and play in your head,” she said when asked what had gone through her mind after seeing the world record as she crossed the line. “It was the final ‘I did it’ moment and I’m going to cherish it for the rest of my life.”
‘Iron sharpens iron’
It was another classic duel between McLaughlin and Muhammad, who have dominated the 400m hurdles in recent seasons.
McLaughlin described her ongoing rivalry with Muhammad as “iron sharpens iron.”
“It’s just two great athletes pushing each other to be better,” she said.
“There’s no animosity, no hard feelings, just two people trying to be their best. We wouldn’t be able to have these world records going back and forth without one another.”
Muhammad meanwhile said she had expected McLaughlin to challenge her record after impressing in the heats—but warned she is confident of making improvements to her own time at next month’s Tokyo Olympics.
“I definitely saw it coming. She looked so good in the rounds,” Muhammad said of McLaughlin’s time.
“I think there’s more in store for me and Tokyo will be good for me,” added Muhammad, whose pre-season was disrupted this year after she caught Covid-19.
In other finals action on Sunday, there was a striking return to form by reigning world 200m champion Noah Lyles in his favourite event.
Lyles had struggled in last week’s 100m final, and had been outshone by 17-year-old prodigy Erriyon Knighton in the opening rounds of the 200m.
Lyles ‘lets it flow’
But the charismatic 23-year-old Floridian roared back to his best in the final, storming over the line in a world-leading 19.74sec, ahead of Kenny Bednarek in 19.78sec. Knighton was third in 19.84sec to book his spot in Tokyo.
Lyles said a relaxed approach had helped him deliver his best performance of the trials when it mattered.
“I stopped stressing, I let my body do what it does,” he said. “I was asking for a lot in the prelims—I was just thinking ‘More more more’, but today I just thought ‘Flow—let it flow, let it come’.
“I’m tired of stressing, tired of fighting — just let everything come.”
There was another world leading time in the women’s 800m final, when the 19-year-old Athing Mu crushing the field to win in 1min 56.07sec, the fastest time in the world this year.
The teenage star, who only turned professional earlier this month, was always in control and then laid waste to her rivals with a devastating kick for home that saw her finish several metres clear of Raevyn Rogers in 1:57.66. Ajee Wilson was third in 1:58.39.
The men’s 1,500m final meanwhile saw a pulsating finish, with Oregon student Cole Hocker outsprinting 2016 Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz in the final 50 metres to win in 3:35.28.
Hocker faces a nervous wait to see if he will earn one of the three berths for Tokyo as he has not yet made the Olympic entry standard for the 1,500m this season.