Sydney McLaughlin made her Olympic debut in Rio at age 17. She finished 16th overall. Now, five years later, the Dunellen, New Jersey, native is ready to show the world she's one of the best ever — and by some measure, she's already proved it: at the world championships in 2019, not only did she miss gold by eight-hundredths of a second, but her time, 52.23, is the second-fastest 400m hurdles mark in history.

As part of our preparation for the Tokyo Games, NBC Olympics sent questionnaires to multiple athletes to learn more about their lives on and off the field of play. Here’s what we found out about McLaughlin:

Sydney McLaughlin, Track & Field

Events: 400m Hurdles

Age: 21

Birthplace: New Brunswick, N.J.

Hometown: Dunellen, N.J.

Residence: Playa Vista, Calif.


How has your family and parents influenced your athletic career?

My parents Willie and Mary gave birth to four children. I am the third. Before me came my other sister Morgan, 25, and my older brother Taylor, 22. My younger brother Ryan is 18. Both of my parents ran track, and they met at Manhattan College where my father ran and my mother was a team manager. 

Hometown's top five spots, how has the borough shaped you and where else have you lived?

My favorite place to eat is Chicken Holiday. They know my order by heart. Six chicken strips with fries, and two honey mustard sauces. Coming from a small hometown that’s only one square mile [in size] motivated me to put us on the map. I now live in California.

What's your training like? And your music of choice while working out? 

Two to three hours. Wake up at 7 a.m., practice at 10 a.m. Favorite workout: 300[-meter track repeat]s. Most grueling workout: 300[-meter] hills. Jersey club music. 

Earliest memories of both track and field and watching the Olympics?

I started when I was 6. [Earliest Olympic memory is London] 2012, watching Allyson [Felix] and Sanya [Richards Ross].

Any specific breakthrough moment?

Making the Olympics at 16.

What would you change about your sport?

I would like for our sport to get the recognition it deserves. 

Who is your coach?

Joanna Hayes. It’s fun working together, it’s like mother-daughter.

This has since changed — McLaughlin, as of summer 2020, is training under Bob Kersee. He's the husband and former coach of six-time Olympic medalist heptathlete and long jumper Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and current coach of six-time Olympic and 13-time world champion Allyson Felix, the joint-most decorated female Olympian in track and field history.

Big obstacle that you’ve overcome?


Biggest fear when competing?

Not doing my best. 

Olympic role model and greatest influence?

Allyson Felix.

What advice would you give a young athlete? 

Work at your own pace. 

Best part of living in the Olympic Village? 

The McDonald’s. 

Play any other sports? 

Yes. I used to play basketball and soccer. 

Which Winter Olympic event would you like to try? 



Lucky blanket. 

What do you watch to unwind? 


Do you have a nickname? 

Syd the Kid. 

How do you unwind after a competition? 

I eat candy and call friends. 

Any hidden talents? 

I can raise my eyebrow without even knowing. 


I have a cross on my ring finger because God is my first love. 

Do you have any fears or pet peeves? 

Loud chewing, liars and lots of holes. 

Celebrity crush? 


Five must-have items in your gym bag? 

Gum, lip balm, snack, extra shoes, hair ties. 

If you could hear from one celebrity, who would it be? 

Jada Pinkett Smith. 

What is your favorite meme/GIF that best describes you? 

Welcome to Chili's.