Step by step: How Sydney McLaughlin broke the 400m hurdles world record (video)


Entering the women’s 400m hurdles final at U.S. Olympic Trials, Sydney McLaughlin had been a part of two world record-breaking races: first at the 2019 U.S. Championships and then again at the 2019 World Championships. Both times, McLaughlin finished second to the world record-breaker: Dalilah Muhammad.

But on Sunday night in Eugene, Oregon, it was McLaughlin who walked away as the fastest woman of all time. The 21-year-old crossed the line in 51.90, breaking Muhammad’s record by 0.26 seconds to become the first woman to ever run under 52 seconds (video embedded above).

McLaughlin will be joined at the Tokyo Olympics by Muhammad (whose second-place time of 52.42 is tied for sixth-fastest in history) and Anna Cockrell (who cut nearly a second off her personal best to qualify for her first Olympic team).

McLaughlin’s journey from high school prodigy to fastest woman in history

While greatness has long been expected of McLaughlin, it was never a given.

She made her Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Games, where at age 17, she was the youngest U.S. Olympian in track & field since 1972.

She then returned home to Dunellen, New Jersey, for her senior year at Union Catholic High School. She graduated in 2017 as the first repeat winner of the Gatorade Athlete of the Year award, which is given annually to the nation’s top high school athlete in any sport.

As a freshman at the University of Kentucky, McLaughlin set a collegiate record in the 400m hurdles before turning pro in June 2018.

The 2019 season marked McLaughlin’s transition from “good for her age” to “one of the best of all time.”

She made her world championship debut, winning silver in the 400m hurdles. Her time of 52.23 made her the second fastest woman of all time, behind only the woman two lanes over from her.

The so-called rivalry between McLaughlin and Muhammad

When the two fastest women of all time go head-to-head, the rivalry story almost writes itself.

Muhammad has long dismissed that narrative, including in last week’s pre-competition press conference.

“I don’t look at it as a rivalry,” the then world record-holder said. “It’s actually unfortunate to me that it’s looked upon that way. It makes it seem like we’re always going head-to-head, when in reality, I wish nothing but the best for Sydney.”

Muhammad added, in what felt like a prophetic, torch-passing moment: “I’d love to see where the event can go.”

After last night’s win, McLaughlin shared a similar sentiment.

“We wouldn’t be able to have these world records go back and forth without one another,” she said. “Iron sharpens iron. People can call it whatever they want to call it, but it’s two great athletes pushing each other to be better. There’s no animosity, there’s no hard feelings.”

What can history teach you about how to break a world record in the 400m hurdles?

Earlier this year, McLaughlin announced that she had started working with Bobby Kersee, husband of six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee and longtime coach of Allyson Felix, the most decorated American woman in Olympic track & field history.

Since making the coaching switch, McLaughlin has made some major changes to how she approaches the 400m hurdles.

“We’ve been working on me being really be comfortable with the race itself, understanding the history behind it,” McLaughlin said last week. “Just knowing some of the past in order to work towards the future.”

One athlete McLaughlin has studied is two-time Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses, who first broke the men’s 400m hurdles world record in 1976 and then improved his own mark four more times before retiring in 1988.

While Moses is best known for his 400m hurdles dominance – he went undefeated for nearly 10 years, winning 122 consecutive races between 1977 and 1987 – McLaughlin pointed to a more technical innovation he introduced to the event: Moses’ “strength in being able to keep his stride pattern.”

As a competitor, Moses reimagined the 400m hurdles, becoming the first man to consistently take 13 steps between each hurdle.

To break the women’s world record, McLaughlin adapted that approach.

“In a women’s race, people technically want 15 strides all the way around to be a perfect race,” McLaughlin said after winning her preliminary heat.

When Muhammad set her second world record in 2019, she ran 15 strides as far as hurdle eight, but said after that she had hoped keep that 15-stride pattern through hurdle nine.

McLaughlin, however, is taking a new approach: aiming for 14 strides between hurdles.

While that might not sound like much, “It’s a huge deal,” NBC Olympics track & field analyst Sanya Richards-Ross explained.

“What [Sydney is] attempting to do is to be even more aggressive between each hurdle, but maintain that around the track, which is extremely hard to do,” Richards-Ross said.

On Sunday night, “The goal was to go 14 [strides] through the first four [hurdles], which I did,” McLaughlin said. “And then my stride pattern just kicked in and went 15 the rest of the way, which was really what we wanted to do. I’m really happy with how it turned out.”

After reflecting on her race, and the history that she achieved, McLaughlin looked ahead to the future and the legacy she wants to leave.

“So many amazing women came before me and so many amazing women will come after me. I just want to be able to leave my mark.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Gabby Thomas’s atypical – but fast! – journey to the Olympics

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
Getty Images

PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
Getty Images

PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.