PHILADELPHIA – Something highly unusual happened during Friday’s marquee high school race at the Penn Relays.
Instead of watching the leaders during the anchor leg of the girls 4×400 Championship of America, the crowd at Franklin Field fixated on the last-place runner.
That was Olympian Sydney McLaughlin, and the Union Catholic (N.J.) senior gave them a show.
After taking the baton in the back of the torrid eight-team field, McLaughlin posted an epic split of 50.37, passing five teams to lead the Vikings to a third-place finish in 3:38.92.
“My goal was just to run a fast split,” said McLaughlin, who lowered her own meet record of 50.78 that she set in Thursday’s trials. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch first, so I just wanted to go out there and run as fast as I could and get us as close as I could to the front.”
“Ideally you want to win the wheel (the winner’s prize), but we knew that this Hydel team had two or three 52-second runners, so it came down to were they going to make a mistake?” Union Catholic coach Mike McCabe said. “I’m super happy”
Union Catholic, which was the only American team in the race, ran the second-fastest time in New Jersey schoolgirl history. Khamil Evans, Amaya Chadwick and Cassandra Lamadieu (55.51) ran the first three legs. Altogether, the Vikings took four-tenths off their qualifying effort.
“I’m proud of them,” McLaughlin said of her teammates. “We raced really hard yesterday; to come back and try to do it again, and to do it faster is great.”
Union Catholic also finished third in this race last year.
“We weren’t afraid,” McLaughlin said. “We came out here and attacked this time.”
The question lingers: Just how fast can this group, and McLaughlin in particular, go before the season ends in June? A sub-50 split, practically unthinkable before McLaughlin came along, doesn’t seem far-fetched now.
McCabe, who doesn’t throw around compliments lightly, summed it up: “Just wonderful for April.”