SIXTEEN MONTHS HAVE PASSED since Sydney McLaughlin — the World Champs 400H silver medalist and the event’s second-fastest all-time — toed a startline. She’ll return to action Saturday at the New Balance Indoor GP, the only gold-level U.S. stop on this year’s World Indoor Tour. Guided by a new coach, she will be gunning in an event she has not run in 6 years, the 60H.
McLaughlin, 21, has moved on from coach Joanna Hayes — her mentor through the World Champs year transition from Kentucky frosh stardom to the pro level — to Bobby Kersee, illustrious coach to generations of ultra-elite sprinters and hurdlers.
“This last year has been definitely a transition — since [the New Balance Indoor] Grand Prix last year — just kind of figuring out bodywork and everything,” McLaughlin told media on a pre-meet Zoom call on Friday. “I’m now with a new coach; I’m with Bobby Kersee and that group [including Allyson Felix], so kind of just navigating that and seeing what we want to do moving forward in terms of this year and how we want to handle things. I know this last year with COVID has just been something completely different to navigate. So we’ve really just been focusing on our race and handling that the best way we know possible.” (McLaughlin was scheduled to race at New Balance a year ago but was forced into a late withdrawal by injury.)
One guesses that Kersee, who coached Andre Phillips to ’88 Olympic gold, is ecstatic after 3 decades at the prospect of working his magic once again with a 400 hurdler. Way back when, Kersee’s event as a competitor was the full-lap hurdles.
McLaughlin is pumped, as well. “I’m really excited about what we have going,” she said. “The chemistry seems really great, and yeah, he absolutely loves this event. So it’s been really fun to just learn from him and to have these practices where we can really break down my race and move forward with it.”
Hayes, many will remember, was guided to Barcelona Olympics short-hurdles gold by Kersee. The coaching switch went amicably.
“You know, I’d seen Bobby out at the track a couple of times while we were at UCLA and he was helping for a while just kind of with the hurdling technique, and I think the chemistry kind of clicked,” McLaughlin said. “Then we felt that it was a good decision with the Olympics being postponed, if I was to want to switch coaches that [’20] was the year to do it. So it kind of just all worked out perfectly in terms of making the switch. And yeah, we all still see each other at the track and it’s always good vibes.
“But I think just in terms of my race and really breaking it down, as someone who ran the 400H, Bobby has a lot of knowledge in it.”
Leave it to Kersee, a coach renowned for having things his way, to reintroduce the 60m indoor version to McLaughlin’s routine after many seasons away. Her last race in the event was a win at the New Balance Indoor Nationals prep meet of ’15.
“It definitely excites me,” she said. “It’s been 6 years now, which is crazy to think about, since I’ve short-hurdled indoors. I was a sophomore in high school… I think the reason I’d stopped actually short-hurdling was because I kept having a repetitive issue with my groin. But just getting back to that actually has been really fun for me. And it’s been great to work on my hurdle technique; also the speed behind the race. So, you know, I’m just excited to get back to something that I used to love to do.”
The New Balance Indoor — relocated by COVID restrictions this year from its usual Boston home to Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze facility) — will air live Saturday on NBC, 4:00–6:00pm EST.