Sydney McLaughlin was easing her way through a cool-down lap today after a post-Junior nationals workout in California when the Union Catholic High (Scotch Plains) junior was stopped dead in her tracks. Her obstacle was none other than London Olympics gold medalist Allyson Felix, who stepped from behind some bleachers and surprised McLaughlin with the 2015-16 Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year trophy.
“I thought Allyson was just some girl on the track that I was about to run into, then I realized who she was,’” said McLaughlin, a 16-year-old sprinter/hurdler. “I have no words for this. I was just happy to win the state award for a second time and earn another banner for my school. I never even thought about winning this. It’s unreal.”
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. The 5-foot-8 hurdler eclipsed the previous standard by a yawning 0.74 seconds. The time ranks as the world No. 1 among U-20 competitors in 2016 and is currently the No. 6 clocking by any woman worldwide. Her 400-meter dash time of 51.87 at the state Meet of Champions is the world’s fastest by a U-18 sprinter in 2016 and ranks No. 1 among U.S. prep competitors in 2016.
“This is so cool because I know the feelings she’s experiencing and the emotions running through her,” said Felix, 30, who has also twice won silver at the Olympic Games and was named Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year in 2002-03. “There’s something about the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next for you at that phase of your career. It’s a really fun time for her and she’s got the family and support system to take her to the next level.”
The 2015 World Youth Champion in the event, McLaughlin won the third individual national 400 hurdles title of her career this past weekend at the USATF Junior Outdoor Championships, breaking the tape in 54.54. She will compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials next month.
“In a year saturated with an unprecedented number of international-level prep stars across the country, Sydney has clearly emerged as the nation’s supernova,” said Rich Gonzalez of Track & Field News. “Competing in the sport’s most physically grueling event, her incredible stamina and exceptional rhythm over the hurdles at such an early stage of her career makes her the nation’s best prospect among the few elite high schoolers slated to compete at next month’s U.S. Olympic Trials.”
McLaughlin’s season-best time in the 400-meter dash is the 15th-fastest in U.S. prep history. She also owns this season’s national No. 14 wind-legal clocking in the 200-meter dash (23.53). Her historic 50.93 auto-timed 400-meter split at NBNO anchored Union Catholic’s national prep record-breaking Swedish medley relay quartet (2:07.9). McLaughlin swept the 400-meter dash and the 400-meter hurdles (56.23) at the state Meet of Champions this spring. She also ran the second leg of the winning 4×400-meter relay quartet, which broke the tape at the MOC in 3:46.68. In addition, McLaughlin swept the 400 (52.44) and the 400 hurdles (57.37) at the Non-Public A group championships, leading the Vikings to the team title.
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the track. McLaughlin is now a finalist for the Gatorade Female High School Athlete of the Year award. USA TODAY High School Sports administrates the nationwide selection process in collaboration with Gatorade.
McLaughlin has maintained a 3.55 GPA in the classroom. A volunteer for the Central Jersey Chapter of Hope Worldwide, McLaughlin has participated in multiple community service projects throughout Perth Amboy, including distributing fire safety and disaster relief information to residents on behalf of the American Red Cross. She has also donated her time to Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts in Toms River, especially the cleanup of Cattus Island County Park. In addition to serving as a soup kitchen staffer and as part of a teen outreach project in association with her church community, McLaughlin has assisted at a local youth track event as a meet official. The founder of her school’s Juggling Club, she volunteered at an area juggling camp last summer.
McLaughlin becomes the 11th prep athlete from New Jersey to win national Gatorade honors in any sport. She is the state’s first national track & field winner. McLaughlin joins a distinguished list of national-winner alumni from the Garden State, including NBA Rookie of the Year Karl Towns (St. Joseph, Metuchen), who won in 2014, Boston Red Sox right-handed starter Rick Porcello, the 2007 winner in baseball, 2015 World Cup champion Heather O’Reilly (East Brunswick), the girls soccer winner in 2003, and former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Claudio Reyna (St. Benedict’s Prep, Newark), the 1991 winner in boys soccer.
California, with 67, has produced the most Gatorade national winners across the program’s 12 sports, followed by Texas (31), Florida (21), Illinois (15) and