McLaughlin had some interesting things to say about her time at Kentucky when we talked to her today prior to her pro debut tomorrow at the 2019 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.
Sydney McLaughlin on her time at Kentucky: "In the environment that I was in, I didn't feel like I was happy. I think I lost the love for the sport when I started making it a job too soon -- before I even went pro." On her pro debut: "It's kind of a practice."
Nineteen-year-old Sydney McLaughlin, New Balance's big investment, will run her first professional race on Saturday in the 500 meters, something we weren't very happy about in our meet preview considering she's lining up against a field engineered to deliver her a victory while any runner that might beat her (US indoor 400 record holder Kendall Ellis, US outdoor 400 champ Shakima Wimbley) has been shepherded into the 300 meters instead.
I asked McLaughlin how she ended up in the 500, and she said that she was given the choice of running any distance between 300 and 600 and was not told ahead of time who she would be racing.
"I was not running the 600," McLaughlin said. "It’s just January, there’s no need to open up in the 4. The 3, I feel like we’re working on strength right now, so there’s no need to be going that fast. So we picked the 5 as a strength workout. I’ve never run one before, so we’ll just see how it goes."
McLaughlin is so talented that I have to at least mention the American record (it's 1:07.34 by Courtney Okolo in 2017), but she knows that whatever she runs on Saturday in what she said will be her only indoor race this year, it's not the be-all, end-all. In fact, McLaughlin admitted to something that we often point out at LetsRun.com -- that outside of the major championships, most of these meets don't matter all that much.
“It’s kind of a practice," McLaughlin said.
She wasn't the only one expressing that sentiment as Rai Benjamin, the hurdles star who will be running the 300 tomorrow, also referred to his race as "a practice meet” before catching himself and adding, "Well it’s to break up practice. That’s what I was told."
As for the rest of McLaughlin's life, she is enjoying her new training base of Los Angeles, though she has yet to become a true Angeleno in one respect: she doesn't drive.
"People in LA don't use their blinkers," she joked.
McLaughlin also opened up on her coaching switch, from Edrick Floreal to Joanna Hayes. McLaughlin enjoyed plenty of success last year under Floreal at the University of Kentucky -- PRs across almost every distance, including a world U20 record/world leader of 52.75 in the 400 hurdles -- but when Floreal took the job as the head coach at the University of Texas, McLaughlin did not follow along to Austin and chose to begin working with Hayes, the USC hurdles coach. Under Floreal, McLaughlin trained alongside 100 hurdles world record holder Keni Harrison and 400 hurdles world champ Kori Carter, but she said that being in a group with women who were that accomplished brought unwanted pressure.
"In the environment that I was in, I didn't feel like I was happy," McLaughlin said. "I think I lost the love for the sport when I started making it a job too soon -- before I even went pro. And I think I put a lot of pressure on myself. In the environment that I was in, you're surrounded by a lot of professional athletes who have already been to the highest stages and have world records and stuff. I just think I needed to step away from all of that and focus on myself and my event, taking it at my pace instead of trying to jump on board with everybody else."