As anticipation for the Tokyo Olympics later this summer grows, one high school in New Jersey is celebrating a onetime star athlete who broke a world record in track and field as she qualified to be a member of Team USA.
An astonished 21-year old Sydney McLaughlin could be seen mouthing “oh my God” early Monday morning as she learned she had shattered the world record for the 400 meter hurdles in the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.
Her mom and brother from Dunellen, New Jersey, were in the stands watching — but plenty of others tuned in from afar — including her former track and field teammates at Union Catholic High school in Scotch Plains.
”She would always show up and do what had to be done,” said Connor Reilly, a former high school classmate and track teammate. “She wasn’t someone to talk much bad, she just showed up and did it.
The principal of the school, Sister Percylee Hart, said that McLaughlin and her teammates would train right in the schools hallways. McLaughlin was a rising senior when she qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, becoming the youngest track and field athlete since 1976 to compete in the games. While she didn’t receive a medal, that was not what was important for those who were rooting her on back home.
“To me and for her and her family, and our school community here, that was a high, definitely,” Hart said. “And from there, she’s just soared.”
There’s a tribute case to McLaughlin in the second floor hallway, but the principal says the running legend never let the Olympic hype swell her head.
“She and her family asked if she could have senior year as a senior, and not as a celebrity. And so we honored that,” Hart said.
The track star went pro after her freshman year in college, winning big-time endorsements as well as being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But those who know her say she’s never changed.
“A lot of people know that when she walks in a room, all eyes are on her. She’s a very humble person , so just to see her so successful is pretty cool, it’s awesome,” said Marcus Sancho, who is a coach for Union Catholic’s track and field team. “I think she could break 50 (seconds) in the 400 hurdles — she is a special talent, a once-in-a-lifetime talent.”
All eyes at the New Jersey high school will be on the Tokyo Olympics, but McLaughlin’s high school coach believes she is just beginning to hit her stride. His prediction: She’ll break her own world record, if not this summer then in the next Olympics games.