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

Sydney McLaughlin
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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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12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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