Thu | Jun 13, 2024

World record chase in the 400m – mission impossible?

Published:Friday | June 9, 2023 | 1:17 AMHubert Lawrence /Gleaner Writer

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone

There are coaches whose track record is so compelling that you believe them when they speak. One such is Bobby Kersee, who has helped Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone become the fastest 400 metres hurdler of all time. Kersee believes that his pupil can break the world record of the flat 400m which has stood since 1985 at 47.60 seconds.

McLaughlin begins her 400m season today at the Paris Diamond League meeting in good company. Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic leads 2023 performances with her national record 48.98 and Jamaica’s Olympic and World finalist Candice McLeod is in the field too. The Jamaican is in modest form but Paulino, the Olympic and World silver medallist, is formidable.

However, Kersee is seeing big possibilities. “Sydney is considered the first real threat to Marita Koch 38-year-old world 400 record,” he said to The Orange County Register. That’s confident talk from a man whose wife Jackie set a still-standing heptathlon world record in 1988. He later directed Gail Devers and Allyson Felix to Olympic and World Championship success.

“She can do 50 in the 400 hurdles, so she’s got the speed and stamina, and now she has the necessary aerobic base to run a sub-48 time,” he said of his latest charge.

I don’t expect her to challenge in Paris but the race will reveal what shape the hurdler supreme is in for her first race of the season.

Coach and athlete are still unsure about which event she will contest at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, this August, but one thing is certain. In addition to her aerobic base, McLaughlin-Levrone is going to need speed.

In 1985, East Germany Marita Koch rolled in Canberra, Australia, for the Athletics World Cup in fine sprinting form. Indoors, she ran 60 metres in 7.04 seconds. Outdoors, the 1980 Olympic 400 champion did the 100m in 10.97 and the 200m in 21.78. In Canberra, she blazed the first half of the race in 22.4 seconds and never looked back.

McLaughlin’s sprint benchmarks are a wind-aided 11.07 for the 100m, 22.39 for the 200m and 50.07 for 400m. With no hurdles in her path in Paris, a sub-50 seems a good guess.

“That’s one that has stood for a very long time,” she told Olympics.com. This 23-year-old hurdles queen is captivated by Koch’s record. “It has amazed everybody, that time in and of itself is baffling. And I think, if the time comes down the road where we do want to run, that would be something to chase.”

She might not win in Paris, but Paulino will help us all to see what’s in store for McLaughlin-Levrone in the flat 400m.

HUBERT LAWRENCE has made notes at trackside since 1980.