2022 T&FN Women’s Athlete Of The Year — Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone

Syd’s minimalist season saw her run in just a quartet of 400H finals, but her times rate as Nos. 1, 2, 5 & 6 on the all-time list. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

SHE DIDN’T RACE OFTEN, but when she did… wow! In the history of our Women’s AOY award, a list of legends dating back to the ’74 season, none have competed fewer times in their all-conquering campaigns than Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone did in ’22. The fastest 400H runner in history lined up for just 6 finals, and that included her sole foray into the 100H as well as her gold medal 4×4 anchor in Eugene (a 47.91 leg that didn’t factor into her AOY selection).

That leaves just 4 finals in her specialty event and it’s hard to not wax too extravagantly about how unbelievable those finals were:

June 05 — At the Music City Track Carnival in Nashville, she blistered a 51.61. Close observers noted her steps got a little wonky mid-race, and it later turned out that hurdle 5 was set in the wrong place. Even so, it was the fastest time ever on U.S. soil, and only two performances in world history were faster: the first two places in the previous year’s Olympics when both SML and Dalilah Muhammad shattered the old World Record. “It was a great way to open up. It shows kind of where we’re at,” she said, adding, “You know, I didn’t know the hurdles were in the wrong place but it’s all good. Hopefully once they’re in the right place it will be an even better situation.”

June 25 — At the USATF Championships in Eugene, after running rounds of 54.11 and 52.90, McLaughlin-Levrone unleashed a powerful 51.41 World Record, an improvement of 0.05 on her Tokyo standard of 51.46. “Anything is possible any time I step on the track,” she said of the third global standard of her career. “The goal is to improve upon myself and push the limits.”

July 22 — At the World Championships, McLaughlin-Levrone once again graced the Hayward Field track with a World Record, this one a mind-numbing, jaw-dropping 50.68 that redefined perfection in the long hurdle event. Immediately after, she crouched on the track, then sat awhile, seemingly as shocked by the time as everyone else in the stadium.

She explained, “I was just taking a moment to process the lactic acid and I was taking a moment to really just enjoy what had taken place. Sometimes the race goes by and you forget what happened. I really just wanted to sit there for a moment and soak it all in before getting into the craziness of what follows that.”

August 08 — At the Gyulai Memorial in Székesfehérvár, Hungary, the world champion, who had turned 23 the day before, concluded her campaign without having dropped in on a single Diamond League meeting. On a blustery day, she rocketed 51.68, a full second off her WR. Disappointing? Hardly. That time still ranked as the No. 6 performance in world history, bettered only by one other human (Muhammad) once.

And with that, McLaughlin-Levrone ended her season to embark on a delayed honeymoon with former NFL player Andre Levrone Jr., whom she had married May 05. Looking back on her brief but earthshaking ’22 season, she says, “All of my goals were accomplished this year. We were able to accomplish everything we set out to do.”

What next? Within minutes of destroying the WR at the WC, speculation began about whether she would switch events, on the notion that after 50.68, the 400H had been conquered for all time.

However, she has countered those who say that 50.68 can’t be topped: “I think there’s always more to improve upon. I think we’re pushing the boundaries of this sport, especially in our event, so I definitely think there’s more that can be shaven off.

“We’re all figuring out, yes, there’s 10 barriers, but we can run them a lot faster than people think. There’s no such thing as a perfect race, but I still think that wasn’t even a super-clean race [technically].”

Even so, she has admitted that she is intrigued by the flat 400 WR of 47.60 that East Germany’s Marita Koch set in ’85: “That World Record has stood for so long, and no one’s come even close to it. So we definitely want to be able to try that and see what we can do there as well.”

In early December she said the decision still hasn’t been made: “Both the 400 flat and 400H are amazing options. There’s still so much to be done in the 400H, but I also haven’t run the 400 truly competitively since college, so there’s room for improvement there. A a lot of it comes down to my coach and his decision, and he’s still figuring out what to do. I think we’re looking at the schedule and what makes sense and what this year’s goals are. When we come to a decision, we’ll go for it all the way.”