Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who broke the 400m hurdles world record four times in the last two years, wants to add the 400m without hurdles to her program.
“I don’t think we’re going to give up the 400m hurdles just yet, but we definitely want to expand to the 400m flat and just see what’s possible there,” McLaughlin-Levrone told NBC Sports in a recent interview.
McLaughlin-Levrone checked off every major box in the 400m hurdles by age 23: Olympic gold medal, world title and world record. After lowering the record to 50.68 seconds at July’s world championships, she was asked about possibly adding or changing events for the run-up to the Paris Games.
Back then, McLaughlin-Levrone said she and coach Bobby Kersee would decide after the season if she will continue to race strictly the 400m hurdles individually at major meets. Her season ended in early August.
Even before the world championships, Kersee told NBC Sports’ Ato Boldon that McLaughlin-Levrone will eventually turn to the flat 400m and chase that 37-year-old world record, the longest-standing in any men’s or women’s sprint event.
Now, McLaughlin-Levrone is voicing something similar.
“That world record has stood for so long, and no one’s come even close to it,” she said. “So we definitely want to be able to try that and see what we can do there as well.”
McLaughlin-Levrone showed her flat potential in the 4x400m relay at worlds. Her split — 47.91 seconds — made her the seventh-fastest relay performer in history and second-fastest in the last 33 years behind Allyson Felix.
McLaughlin-Levrone has never run the individual 400m at a senior championship meet. Her personal best is 50.07 seconds from 2018, when she was a freshman at the University of Kentucky.
It would not be a surprise if McLaughlin-Levrone enters the flat 400m at next season’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, given her comments and that she has a bye in the 400m hurdles into next summer’s world championships as reigning champion.
At next summer’s world championships, the women’s 400m hurdles first round heats start 2 hours and 20 minutes before the women’s 400m semifinals. Top-level pros rarely race multiple times in one session in a distance longer than 200 meters at any meet.
Only twice has an athlete won a medal in both the flat 400m and 400m hurdles at one Olympics. Americans Harry Hillman and Frank Waller went one-two in both events and at the 1904 St. Louis Games, where the fields were small and largely American. Only five women have competed in both events at one Olympics, according to Olympedia.org.
The Olympic schedule is accommodating as ever for a possible women’s 400m-400m hurdles double in 2024. For the first time in Olympic history, none of the rounds of those races take place on the same day at the Games. But doing both through the finals would still be a challenge: racing six consecutive days at the Olympics (and a seventh day at the end if adding the 4x400m relay).
This past season, Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo won the world title in the flat 400m in 49.11 seconds. The American record is 48.70, set by 2012 Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross in 2006.
The world record is 47.60, set by East German Marita Koch in 1985. Koch was among many East German athletes whose record-breaking performances in the 1970s and ’80s generated suspicion (and later records of administered doses) of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Koch never tested positive and denied ever using PEDs, according to Olympedia.
No woman has run the individual 400m within a half-second of Koch’s world record time since she registered it.
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