A two-time Gatorade State Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, McLaughlin won the 400-meter intermediate hurdles at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships with a time of 54.46 seconds, breaking a 32-year-old national prep record set by former U.S. Olympian Leslie Maxie in 1984. A three-time national champion in the event, the 5-foot-8 hurdler eclipsed the previous standard by a yawning 0.74 seconds and the time ranks as the World No. 1 among U-20 competitors in 2016. Her 400-meter dash time of 51.87 at the state Meet of Champions is the fastest U-18 time in the world this year, broke her own state record and ranks No. 1 among U.S. prep competitors in 2016.
We sat down with McLaughlin, 16, to better understand how she outshined more than 578,000 girls high school track & field athletes nationwide to win the award.
Q: Three individual national championships as a junior and now this. You have a chance to be the first high school girl since Marion Jones to win Gatorade National Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors twice. Thoughts?
A: There is honestly no way to get my head around that.
Q: In an online interview, you’re older brother, Taylor, also a hurlder/sprinter, called you ‘a teenager … moody.’ He may be running for Michigan now as a rising collegiate sophomore, but that guy is a teenager too. Some nerve, no?
A: Yeah, absolutely. I’m moody? He’s the moody one!
Q: True or false: The lure of winning a chocolate bar in your first-ever 100-meter dash motivated you to stay in the sport?
A: That is absolutely true. That was my motivation.
Q: You’ve said the fact you’ll running against collegians and pros at next month’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials puts the pressure squarely on their shoulders because—and we’re paraphrasing here—they won’t want to underperform against a 16-year-old in their heat. Pretty heady insight. You going to hold onto that feeling all the way until the starter’s gun?
A: I have so much more running to do. I’m so young. The pressure is definitely not on me. I didn’t even expect to be here at this point yet. So, yeah, I think I can hold on to that feeling.
Q: Two-time Gatorade South Carolina Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year Anna Cockrell is wildly talented and won three medals at national championship meets over the past two weeks. That said, she wasn’t anywhere near your peripheral—winning silver and finishing 1.82 seconds back—when you set the 400 hurdles record at NBNO. Can we expect another gear for you when you’ll have competitors all around you during heats at the Olympic Trials?
A: I think it’s definitely going to challenge me. I just have to run my race and do what I know how to do.
Q: At the Penn Relays this past winter, you ran a 52.12 indoor split in the 4×400 relay, which helped Union Catholic take bronze as the first American team (behind two Jamaican quartets) in the Championships of America race. The next day, four-time Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross (who won this Gatorade’s national track award in 2002-03) ran a 52.62 to anchor a Team USA win. Does that still sound as impressive to you as it does to us?
A: Personally, I wanted to run faster. I didn’t even know that was true about the two splits until like a week later. After Team USA ran that day, my coach said, ‘Hey, you could have run in that (quartet). I just laughed, but then I saw the two times and I was like, ‘wow.’
Q: Because the girl who won this award last year, Georgia’s Candace Hill, turned pro after her sophomore year of high school, we have to ask: Has that even come up as a possibility in your inner circle in regard to completing your senior year?
A: I’ve been asked that a lot lately. I really think I’m going to finish out high school. We’re looking at colleges. We’re looking at all possibilities, though. Nothing is set in stone.