Most high school juniors have to worry about getting a job or the right internship during summer vacation. Sydney McLaughlin has to worry about the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
The 16-year-old qualified for the United States’ track and field team during the Olympic Trials on Sunday, when she came in third in the finals of the 400-meter hurdles. According to the AP, McLaughlin is the youngest person to compete on the U.S. track and field team since 1972.
She finished the race, which was held at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, in just of 54.15 seconds, a new world junior-record. Dalilah Muhammad and Ashley Spencer took first and second, respectively, with Muhammad crossing the finish line in just 52.88 seconds.
McLaughlin, a rising senior at Union Catholic in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, said she had a panic attack before the race began.
“Sometimes, I just forget that I’m 16,” McLaughlin told the AP. “There’s not as much expectation. You know, I don’t get paid for this. I’m here just for fun.”
“I think it was more self-doubt,” her high school coach Mike McCabe said. “It was the big stage, ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I belong here.”
McCabe’s pep talk before the race seems to have worked, as his athlete is headed to Rio.
McLaughlin will turn 17 on August 7, just two days after the start of the Olympics.
On the other side of the age spectrum, Bernard Lagat, a Kenyan-born athlete who has competed as an American citizen since 2005, blew away the competition to win the 5,000-meter run. Lagat is 41 years old, but you wouldn’t guess that from his blistering finish.
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