Sydney McLaughlin shows her promise, inexperience in 400 hurdles qualifying

Sydney McLaughlin (USA) competes during the women's 400-meter hurdles.

RIO DE JANEIRO — Once her Summer Games are over, Sydney McLaughlin will need to pick up her summer reading before school starts in early September.

“I think that’s next on my agenda,” she said.

The assembled media contingent could only commiserate; they’d all been there before.

When it comes to track and field at these Rio Games, however, it’s a problem only McLaughlin could have. The 17-year-old hurdler from New Brunswick, N.J., Is the youngest athlete on the USA’s track and field team and the youngest track athlete to represent the country since 1980.

Her qualifying heat during the 400-meter hurdles at once spoke to McLaughlin’s talent — abilities that rank her among the most promising Americans on the track in Rio — and her inexperience.

On the one hand, she advanced: McLaughlin (with a time of 56.32 seconds) finished fifth in her race but 20th overall, moving her into Tuesday’s semifinals.

But it wasn’t a good race, she said, adding, “I’m not particularly happy with my performance.”.

“It is the weather and it is the thousands of people in the crowd, and I have a cold. It’s just so much to process in one race and try to overcome at one time.”.

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There’s no doubt that she was caught off guard by the competition the Olympic Games has to offer. It took about 200 meters for her to come to a realization: It’s not just another race.

“I kind of doubted what I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be another qualifying round. But this is people actually trying to get a spot in the semifinals,” she said.

“I thought it was going to be a little bit slower, the times. But everyone is racing. This is a race. I think I kind of forgot that when I got on the line.”.

Yet she still advanced, and with each passing race McLaughlin will almost certainly begin to develop a comfort level to go with her beyond-her-years ability.

“It’s exciting to be here but it’s also a little intimidating,” she said. “A lot of people have done this before and have more experience than me. I still got to represent my country. I’m happy about that.”.

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