PHILADELPHIA — It’s hard to say what was more impressive: The record Sydney McLaughlin (Rio Olympian) set or the line of teenagers seeking her autograph afterward.
The Union Catholic (N.J.) “the Vikings” senior was the talk of the Penn Relays Thursday, anchoring the 4×400m in an otherworldly time of 50.78. It’s the fastest one-lapper by school girl since the event began in 1980 and led the Vikings to a jaw-dropping trials time of 3:39.35 — good for the second seed in Friday’s Championship of America.
Teammates Khamil Evans (55.7), Amaya Chadwick (56.9) and Cassandra Lamadieu (56.0) handed the stick to the Olympian in third place, and McLaughlin made up a 20-meter gap as 20,000 onlookers roared with delight.
“Our goal was to come here and hang with the two Jamaican teams,” McLaughlin said as she obliged a line of autograph seekers that stretched halfway up the bleachers. “We were just trying to get a feel for and make it to the final, but that turned into a race. That was probably the hardest trial I’ve ever run. I’m just really excited to get back tomorrow.”
Photo: Sydney McLaughlin obliges a long line of autograph seekers at the Penn Relays. (Photo: Jerry Carino, Gannett New Jersey)
Union Catholic is the only USA team in the final. The top seed is Hydel of Jamaica (3:37.70).
“This is the oldest, biggest, most exciting meet there is, so to be able to get my team out here as a senior,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just a great feeling to know I’m running with my teammates and my best friends.”
Everyone ran personal bests for the Vikings, whose time is the second-fastest in state history.
“I didn’t think I could keep up with them,” said Evans, whose leadoff set the tone. “But I felt comfortable through 200 and I just hit it again at the end. I wasn’t expecting to run a 55 today, but that was great.”
Even McLaughlin, whose split eclipsed the standard of 51.5 set in 2013, surprised herself.
“We knew I had to run fast and had to go to a place that I’m not used to going to,” she said. “My expectation was that I’d have to run a 51, but I think based on how the race went and how they took it out, I knew it was going to be a little faster.”
Now the question is: Can the Vikings earn a winner’s wheel at 5:30 p.m. Friday? The last New Jersey squad to win the girls 4×400 was Willingboro in 1999. Winslow’s boys did it in 2004.
“Anything is possible,” McLaughlin said. “Anything can happen.”