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Olympic athlete sees Kentucky as best track to next games

Sydney McLaughlin, who ran in the 400-meter hurdles in the 2016 Olympics, has set world junior records in the 300 and 400 in college. AP Images

She was the first high school athlete to twice win the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year and the youngest track athlete in 40 years to make the U.S. Olympic team. Nearly every time she leans across the finish line, she lowers records.

So why did Sydney McLaughlin, the phenom hurdler from Union Catholic Regional High School in New Jersey who ran in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2016 Rio Olympics, put aside the chance at a professional running career to study and compete at Kentucky? To her, the answer is simple: Olympic-level coaching and competition, access to world-class facilities, and a start on a future career.

“What brought me here was coach Flo,” she says, referring to Kentucky coach Edrick Floréal, a two-time Olympian who is in his sixth season at the helm of the Wildcats track and field programs and has mentored 11 Olympic athletes.

One of Floréal’s specialties is hurdles, and Kentucky track and field is dotted with elite volunteer assistant coaches: Kendra Harrison (the current 100-meter hurdles world record-holder), Kori Carter (who set the NCAA record in 400 hurdles in 2013), and Omar McLeod (reigning Olympic and world champion in men’s 110 hurdles).

McLaughlin’s immediate goal is to progress in her signature event, the 400 hurdles, as she learns from great hurdlers who are smooth in their steps between hurdles, their  heads still as their long strides go from vertical to horizontal to clear an impediment. “That’s what I’m focusing on, those little details getting more refined that are going to make a difference,” says McLaughlin, who is looking ahead to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

McLaughlin also is preparing for what comes after her running career: She enrolled in Kentucky’s College of Communication and Information and is interested in sports broadcasting.

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