Sydney McLaughlin
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Sydney McLaughlin, youngest U.S. track and field Olympian, in whirlwind summer

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sydney McLaughlin is running with a fast crowd these days. The 16-year-old sprinter and hurdler heads to the Rio Olympics as the youngest member of the U.S. track and field team. First, though, she wants to get home, hug her dog and eat some junk food before taking on the world.

McLaughlin caps a whirlwind few weeks with a stroll down the red carpet at the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night. She’s attending as winner of the girls’ national prep athlete of the year trophy she picked up Tuesday night.

She arrived in Los Angeles directly from making her first Olympic team by finishing third in the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. trials last Sunday in Oregon. Her time of 54.14 seconds was a world junior record.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet,” she said.

After mingling with some of the world’s best professional athletes, McLaughlin goes home to Dunellen, New Jersey, for a brief visit. She’s missing Gamble her cockapoo dog, whom she hasn’t seen in three weeks.

Her parents, Willie and Mary, are scrambling to join her in Rio.

“There’s no way we’re going to let our baby girl go to another country without us being there,” said Willie, who works from home as a network engineer for AT&T. “Besides, how many times do you get to see your kids in the Olympics?”

Mary joked, “We’ll just be buying a lot of bug spray.”

Willie McLaughlin qualified for the 400-meter semifinals at the 1984 U.S. trials, but didn’t make the Olympic team. Mary McLaughlin, who works at Rutgers University, is a former runner, too. The couple met at Manhattan College in New York City.

“We planned for it for years,” Willie said of his daughter’s Olympic qualification, “but it’s actually here and it’s hard to believe.”

Her sister and two brothers will watch from the couch “and party at the house,” Sydney joked.

McLaughlin couldn’t have predicted she would be in Rio. Her high school track season began with a diagnosis of mononucleosis that kept her out 1 ½ months. Her mother had a heart attack.

“Every Olympian has two or three major struggles before they make it,” she told the crowd at the prep awards. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it and somehow I did.”

At trials, McLaughlin had what she called “a mental breakdown” before her first event. She called her dad in full freak-out mode, panicked at the prospect of being a teen running against grown women.

Her coaches calmed her down and “three races later I’m an Olympian,” she said.

“When you put her on the track, you’re not running against a 16-year-old,” Willie McLaughlin said. “You’re running against a very talented, seasoned athlete. That’s what these women are finding out the hard way. I told her, ‘They’re more scared of you than you are of them. They’ve got more to lose than you and that’s the attitude you need to take into it.'”

McLaughlin has a modest goal for her first Games.

“I’m just going to get the experience. There’s so many more years to try again and so many more races to run,” she said. “I don’t even think I’m thinking about place or time. I’m going to hang out with the girls on the team. It’s kind of like vacation and work at the same time.”

From a dad’s perspective, Willie McLaughlin hopes his daughter gains confidence and hones the ability to interact and talk with anyone at the Olympics.

“She’s been really blessed with talent that other people simply don’t have,” he said.

McLaughlin told Sydney that because of her track talent she can go places and do things that others can’t.

“Don’t be afraid of that,” he told her. “Don’t be afraid of doing things new.”

From his perspective as a track coach, Willie is encouraging his daughter to step up her nutrition and embrace the lifestyle of a high-level athlete. That means cutting out junk food and some of “the 16-year-old baggage,” as he calls it.

“We had the boys, going to the mall, all that other stuff,” he said, smiling. “She needs to mature into that woman that’s really going to take care of her body and take care of her instrument of success.”

Sydney, named for her dad’s favorite actor Sidney Poitier, is already showing her stuff in the nail art department. McLaughlin’s long fingernails were decked out in sparkling silver polish, a popular trend among female sprinters.

She turns 17 on Aug. 7, days before the track competition begins in Rio. She’ll be a senior this fall at Union Catholic High in Scotch Plains with some wild stories to tell.

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Emily Sisson a U.S. Olympic marathon trials favorite, thanks to Ireland

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Emily Sisson didn’t think she would become a professional runner until her last year of college. Now, at 28, she goes into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials as a contender for one of three Tokyo spots, if not the overall favorite.

“I’ve only done one marathon, so I definitely don’t feel like I’m an experienced marathoner,” Sisson said by phone last week from her Arizona base. “That’s the one question mark I’ve had all build-up.”

Predicting a marathon can be a crapshoot, but a Podiumrunner.com experts panel pegged Sisson to win. She is younger than any female U.S. Olympic marathoner since Anne Marie Lauck in 1996 (though fellow contender Jordan Hasay is a month younger).

Confidence stems from last April 28. Sisson clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in U.S. women’s history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow. She finished sixth — behind five East Africans. She crossed 3:25 ahead of sometimes training partner and mentor Molly Huddle, also a headliner at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We wanted to run faster,” Sisson said that day in London. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Sisson later mentioned a pre-race scare on the “Keeping Track” podcast. She tripped over a carpet jogging back from a bathroom, banged both knees 15 minutes before the start and got checked out physically by a chiropractor and mentally by her husband, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Sisson then covered the final half of that marathon alone, a foreign feeling for the longtime track runner. At one point, she thought about having never before run more than 23 miles.

Her mind could have also wandered to sports memories that led her to the world’s strongest marathon: Attending a 1999 Women’s World Cup match and seeing her hero, Mia Hamm. As a soccer-playing teenager, being asked by a friend to join a track relay team. Or being told during a record-breaking high school career that she was reminiscent of 2004 Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines.

Sisson, whose dad ran and mom did gymnastics at the University of Wisconsin, transferred after one year in Madison to Providence. She had a best NCAA Championships finish of fourth going into her last year. Before that final season, Sisson was prepared to leave competitive running once her NCAA eligibility exhausted in pursuit of an MBA.

“I had been going through a bit of a funk with running,” she said. “I was getting a little tired.”

Things changed the summer before her senior year. She vacationed with then-boyfriend/now-husband Shane Quinn, a fellow Providence runner, in Quinn’s native Ireland. At one point, they altered training, ditching tempo runs for local road races. Sisson never before competed on the roads. She doesn’t remember the distances being exact. She does remember winning.

“That was a new, fun thing that kept the sport kind of fresh for me,” she said. “You finish, and you go into a local pub and have sandwiches.”

Providence coach Ray Treacy put Sisson in more road races that fall. The opportunity was right. She had no cross-country eligibility left while she readied for the winter and spring track seasons. She went on to win the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 5000m, a springboard to the pros (while still going after the MBA).

Sisson was set back by injury in 2016 and placed 10th in the Olympic trials 10,000m. She kept training under Treacy, and perhaps just as important, with Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m. Huddle, seven years older than Sisson, made her marathon debut after the Rio Olympics.

“Emily really looks up to her and is inspired by her,” Treacy said. “Molly has helped her out in numerous ways in training. … Making sure she’s not going overboard with the training, not running too fast. She kind of keeps her under control.”

Sisson made the last two world championships teams in the 10,000m, but Treacy thought marathon since 2015. They signed her up for the 2019 London Marathon, in part because Huddle was going to race it as her third career 26.2-miler. And in part to get Sisson ready for the Olympic trials in 10 months’ time.

The build-up was better than ideal. Sisson ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history (on a record-eligible course) in January. She became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Come April, Treacy was impressed again just by watching Sisson after she crossed the London finish line in what would be the second-fastest marathon for a U.S. woman in 2019.

“It didn’t look like it took anything out of her,” Treacy said. “She recovered really fast. Within minutes, she was feeling pretty good. That was a good sign.”

Sisson returned home to Quinn and their golden retriever, Desmond, who has 1,400 Instagram followers. She skipped a fall marathon to compete in the 10,000m at track worlds in Doha, placing a respectable 10th.

The recent marathon build-up for trials went just as well, if not better, than the training for London.

“I’m definitely putting a bit of pressure on myself with this one,” Sisson said. “But at the same time, I don’t get caught up in so much what other people say. I don’t really read the articles about who’s the favorite or what chance you have of making the team.”

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Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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