Sydney McLaughlin, Keni Harrison ready to stake their claim in Tokyo


Former Kentucky Wildcat track and field star Sydney McLaughlin breaks the world record in the 400m hurdles in the Olympic Trials for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games at Hayward Field in Eugene, OR on June 27, 2021.

Barkley Truax

“The goal is to win,” Keni Harrison simply put it.

In just eight days, the first round of the Women’s 400m hurdles and 100m hurdles featuring former Kentucky track and field stars Harrison and Sydney McLaughlin will commence as both are set to compete as Olympians representing Team USA.

“The past few weeks for me has kind of just been looking at the race, figuring out things that we need to adjust and working backwards from there,” McLaughlin said. “Kind of just fine tuning at this point; making sure we stay healthy, physically and also kind of just mentally preparing for a different kind of Games is going to be.”

Not only will this Olympic games be different in the sense that no fans will be allowed to attend the events, but most athletes won’t be allowed to bring family with them to Tokyo as a precaution of COVID-19.

“It’s disappointing,” Harrison said about her family watching her from afar. “At the end of the day, I’m looking at the brighter side that the Olympics are even happening.”

Many have dubbed the last several years as the “Golden Age of Track” as we’ve seen over the last decade many world records being broken by current Olympians. McLaughlin and Harrison are no different as they each hold world records in the Women’s 400m hurdles and 100m hurdles, respectively. 

“I already ran the fastest time ever and I think that speaks for itself … I’m really confident going into the Olympics,” Harrison continued. “Being up against the best in the world, that’s going to bring enough intensity that I’m going to need. I know I need to bring my A game.”

“We’re seeing so much so much change,” McLaughlin said. I think it’s really important and it’s really cool to be a part of it, kind of just this new wave and also kind of introducing this new generation, it’s kind of pushing the boundaries of what possible and I think it’s really entertaining for people on the outside to watch but also us to kind of know that we are able to take things to a whole new level. As someone who is a part of it, it definitely pushes you to be the best you want to be.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t respect those that come before you, even though today’s stars are producing numbers never before seen in the sport. McLaughlin says that learning from those who have been in her shoes before, she credits them for making her the runner she is today.

Edrick Floreal, Harrison’s coach, is seen by her in that respect. 

“Coach Flo and I have the same personality,” Harrison said. “We both like to work hard, we both like to perfect our craft and because he’s so nit-picky about my technique, I think that’s why I’m so successful because we drill so much … he’s never satisfied, so neither am I.”

McLaughlin only recently achieved status as the world record holder in the 400m hurdles, coming in at 51.90 seconds in the Olympic Trials last month and shattering the previous record of 52.16 set by Dalilah Muhammad in 1990. 

McLaughlin has come a long way from her days as a 16-year-old Team USA member in Rio in 2016, not only as an athlete, but as a person as well. 

“Understanding more of the woman I want to become,” McLaughlin said in regard to herself then versus now. “Making the Team at 16, there was so much that I was uncertain about, not just in the sports world, but being a teenage girl so the past five years have just been crucial to understanding who I want to be.

As a teenager, McLaughlin finished fifth in the 400m hurdles in Rio, two spots away from standing on the podium in front of the world. Now with the world record in the same event in her back pocket, a medal is hers for the taking. 

With Harrison robbed of a chance at Rio after hitting a hurdle in the Olympic Trials in 2016, she’s also looking to finish in the first three when the time comes in Tokyo, saying that she’s learned to never give up on herself.

You can’t cut corners to be the best. It took a disappointment for me to pull that world record out. I was able to not give up and that was the lesson I learned,” Harrison said.

Both women’s round one events will take place live on July 30 at approximately 10:35 p.m. ET in Tokyo.