United States

Olympics Done, Homework Time for Teenage Hurdler From New Jersey

The 17-year-old is the youngest American track and field athlete to compete in the Summer Games since 1972

Sydney McLaughlin can get back to the homework that's due before the end of the summer. The youngest U.S. track and field Olympian since 1972 did not advance to the final of the 400-meter hurdles.

McLaughlin, a 17-year-old from Dunellen, New Jersey, was fifth in her 400-meter hurdles semifinal Tuesday night at the Rio Games, finishing in 56.22 seconds.

The top two runners in each semifinal automatically qualify for the final, along with the top two fastest others.

So McLaughlin's Olympics are over. That's the bad news. The good news is she can focus on the summer reading project that's due before she starts her senior year of high school.

"It's exciting to be here," said McLaughlin after qualifying for the semifinals in 56.32 seconds — the 20th fastest time, just enough to advance. "But it's also a little intimidating, because a lot of people have done this before and have more experience than me. I mean, just to be here, at this age, representing my country, it's amazing."

McLaughlin wasn't exactly sure how to run this type of Olympic race — go out fast or save a burst to finish. So, she decided to play it safe. Midway through, she knew that wasn't going to cut it and turned on the speed.

"It's hard to bounce back from some sloppy hurdles in the beginning," said McLaughlin. "You waste energy trying to fix your stride pattern. Overall, the strength wasn't there."

In fairness, she has been battling a cold.

"I went into the race with my expectations a little bit lower than should've been," said McLaughlin, who turned 17 on Aug. 7. "It took me 200 meters to realize everyone is working for a spot here. It's not just another race."

It's definitely not.

A little down after her semifinal performance — she didn't earn one of the three automatic spots — she was almost resigned to having her experience in Rio draw to a close.

When all the heats had finished, there was a big sigh of relief.

"It's so much to process in one race and try to overcome at one time," said McLaughlin, who didn't walk in the opening ceremony but plans to get involved in the closing ceremony. "I'm not really particularly happy with my performance. But whatever happens, happens."

About her reading project which is due before she starts her senior year in about a month. She vows to get it done — and she is an expert at juggling.

No, really. She started a juggling club at her high school and can juggle while riding a unicycle.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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