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Sydney McLaughlin takes juggling act to USATF Outdoor Champs

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Sydney McLaughlin can juggle. She can also ride a unicycle. And she has been known to juggle and ride a unicycle at the same time.

“But I haven’t done both of them at the same time in a long time,” the 400m hurdler added. “I’m getting older now.”

About to turn 20 next month, she is juggling quite a few things these days — a new coach, living on the West Coast, making the transition from college to the pro circuit and the weight of lofty expectations. Her name constantly pops up among the ones to watch heading into the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

That’s hardly a surprise: In 2016 and at just 16, McLaughlin became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to qualify for the Olympics in more than four decades.

Pressure doesn’t bother her. She just keeps her eye on the prize like she did as a kid when her dad would coax her to run with the reward of a chocolate candy bar.

Winning is her incentive now — and it’s just as sweet.

“For me it’s kind of just focusing on myself and making sure I’m doing everything possible to be successful,” McLaughlin said ahead of the U.S. track and field championships, which start Thursday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.

A year ago, McLaughlin turned pro after spending a season at Kentucky and winning the NCAA 400 hurdles crown.

Since then, the New Jersey native has been adjusting to life in Los Angeles and working with 2004 Olympic 100m hurdles gold medalist Joanna Hayes. McLaughlin won her Diamond League 400m hurdles debut in Oslo, Norway, last month over U.S. teammate and Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad.

That despite knocking down the first hurdle.

“It’s good to know the strength was there,” said McLaughlin, who also won in Monaco on July 12. “But definitely have to work on the hurdles form and everything.”

McLaughlin will be one of the favorites when the 400m hurdles start Friday. It’s a loaded field that also includes Muhammad, 2015 world champion silver medalist Shamier Little and bronze medalist Cassandra Tate, ’16 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer. Since reigning world champion Kori Carter has an automatic spot to worlds in Doha this fall, there are three more spots up for grabs in the event.

“There’s so much depth,” McLaughlin said. “It’s particularly hard to make that team.”

McLaughlin teamed up in early November with Hayes, who ran the 400m hurdles before switching over to the 100m hurdles. Any chance McLaughlin makes a similar move?

“We always joke about it,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll have to see about that one.”

One hurdle at a time. Her focus remains on steadily learning the nuances of the taxing 400 hurdles event.

“She’s talented and there’s no need to put everything on the line or everything into it in one year,” Hayes explained. “Give her room to grow and make strides.”

Hayes gets asked this often: Can McLaughlin one day break the world record? The mark sits at 52.34 seconds set by Yuliya Pechonkina of Russia in 2003. McLaughlin’s top time is 52.75 seconds, which she ran in May 2018.

“We don’t talk about, ‘OK, we’re going to try to break the world record,’” Hayes said. “We go in there and try to execute a great race. If you do that, eventually records will come.”

Growing up, McLaughlin wasn’t all that jazzed about running. Her father, Willie, would provide plenty of motivation in the form of candy.

“He said, ‘If you run I’ll give you a chocolate bar.’ I ran the 100m and actually won,” recalled McLaughlin, who started a juggling club while in high school and recently got back into the hobby. “I think I was more excited about the chocolate bar than the fact I won. I guess he lured me into the sport.”

She is still motivated by reward — a good performance earns her either a nap or a cheeseburger.

It’s the simple things in life.

McLaughlin comes from an athletic family. Her dad was a 400m semifinalist at the 1984 Olympic Trials and her mother, Mary, ran in high school. Her two brothers and sister also have competitive running backgrounds.

And when the siblings get together, it becomes rivalry time. Sydney pairs with her brother Taylor and they’re pitted against her sister Morgan and brother Ryan. The competitions range from bowling to board games to push-ups.

“We usually win,” cracked McLaughlin, the Gatorade national high school track athlete of the year in ’16 and ’17. “Anything that involves winning you can best believe that we’re competing with each other.”

In her spare time, she’s active on social media and offers tips to kids not that much younger than her.

“I definitely think having people look up to you and ask you for advice drives you to want to do better and continue to have success,” McLaughlin said. “I have fun with being that role model that does things the right way.”

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MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoors

Without their siblings, Green and Parsons find success at figure skating nationals

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – For the first time, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons are competing at the U.S. Championships without their siblings.

Green formerly teamed with older brother Gordon, and Parsons formerly danced with younger sister Rachel. Both Green and Parsons have seen success in Greensboro. When the championships were here in 2011, the Parsons won the novice dance title. When the championships were here in 2015, the Greens won the novice dance title.

Green, 16, and Parsons, 24, finished a satisfying fifth in the rhythm dance on Friday, after performing to “Cry-Baby” and earning 77.42 points. But they believe that this new partnership, with each other, has even greater potential.

“We definitely have some goals that are long-term,” Parsons said. “We’ve made a lot of progress this year – obviously, starting from zero. Nationals has been the culmination of our work so far. We’ve got a lot more to do, for sure.”

How far do they want to take their partnership?

“As far as we possibly can,” Green said.

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

They grew up in the same rink under the same coaches in Washington, D.C., which is part of why they were able to team and find success so seamlessly – they had the same foundation for their skills and development. When their siblings left the sport, Green and Parsons skated together while trying to figure out their next steps. Their coaches took notice, and suggested a formal partnership.

“It’s a huge advantage for us because we’ve learned to skate the same way from the same coaches,” Parsons said after Friday’s rhythm dance. “We’ve always been under the same coaches. Just a huge amount of shared experience we’ve gained throughout the years together, we can apply to our new partnership.”

“Coming into this competition is where it really started to gel,” Green said. “All of our hard work separately started to come together.”

Even 2014 Olympic ice dance champion Charlie White spoke to their ability to come together so quickly on the NBC Sports Gold broadcast of the rhythm dance (full replay here for subscribers).

“I would guess – if I didn’t know – that they had been together for a number of years,” White said. “There’s just a maturity and a talent that they both possess that happens to match up really well. … I think that they have a very, very bright future.”

They’ve had a long season so far, competing six times before nationals. As a comparison, the top couples competed as few as three times.

“Our goal this season was to compete as much as humanly possible,” Parsons said. Green added that she was thankful for the added experience.

Green competed as a junior ice dancer last season and said it was “a bit of a shock” seeing the difference between the levels of competition from junior to senior events. Just last year, she won the junior national title with her brother.

“It was [a challenge] I think I took in stride and I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well,” she said.

“I couldn’t be more proud of her, the way she stepped up to senior. I’m a very happy partner,” Parsons said.

Green and Parsons trail fourth-place Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko by 0.6 points and sit 5.17 points out of bronze medal position. The U.S. has three spots to fill at March’s world championships, though it may not necessarily be the first, second and third place finishers.

The free dance is Saturday.

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MORE: ‘Nervous’ Gracie Gold stumbles in short program, but rebuilds herself to get this far

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.