The high school junior will join the U.S. track team in Rio this summer.
Many teenagers probably spent last weekend hanging out with their friends at the mall, or the local pool. But not Sydney McLaughlin—the 16-year-old runner was in Eugene, Oregon, competing at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Ahead of three pros and two collegians, McLaughlin finished third in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 54.15 seconds, qualifying for a spot on the team. Here, five things to know about the Rio-bound teen:
She’s the youngest athlete to make the team in decades
While McLaughlin isn't the first 16-year-old runner to join the U.S. Olympic track team, it's incredibly rare for someone so young to qualify. The last time it happened was 40 years ago in 1976, when 100-meter hurdler Rhonda Brady, then 16, competed in the Montréal Olympic games. McLaughlin will be slightly older than Brady was when she competes, since she'll reach the ripe age of 17 two days after the Opening Ceremonies, which take place on August 5th.
She's juggling a lot (literally)
McLaughlin just completed her junior year at Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where she runs for the school's track team (ranked number one in the state). Also on the rising senior's resume: some impressive juggling skills. She founded a school juggling club and has volunteered at a local juggling camp for kids.
She’s no stranger to winning
The New Jersey native won her first competitive track race at age 6, according to ESPNW. Since then, McLaughlin has won too many sectional titles and county and national championships to count. In fact, NewJersey.com reports that the only time she ever lost a race was two years ago, when she came in second to the current No. 1 400-meter hurdler in the world, Shamier Little. Can you say #winning?
She still gets jitters
ESPNW reported that McLaughlin almost didn't show up for the Olympic trials. Before her first round of hurdles, she experienced a panic attack and told her coaches, "I don't want to do this. I don't belong here." The runner later described her reluctance as a "mental breakdown" of sorts. Luckily, coaches Mike McCabe and Luiz Cartagena were able to encourage McLaughlin to head to the track. The reason for her fear? "There's so many people here," McLaughlin told a reporter after the race. "I've never been in front of a crowd this big. It definitely has an effect."
She has a great attitude
McLaughlin can't believe how young she is either, and is taking her success in stride. “Sometimes, I just forget that I’m 16,” she told the Associated Press last weekend. "There's not as much expectation. You know, I don't get paid for this. I'm here just for fun."