Sydney McLaughlin Broke Her Own World Record. Again.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Sydney McLaughlin was challenged whenever she planted herself in the starting blocks for the 400-meter hurdles. She knew she would face stiff competition from the likes of Dalilah Muhammad, a graceful runner with an impressive list of achievements.

For the past couple of years, however, McLaughlin has lifted herself to a different level. She has repeatedly smashed the world record to smithereens, rendering her rivals — none of them slouches — into background noise as she pushes the boundaries of what seems possible in her profession.

Already the reigning Olympic gold medalist, McLaughlin was at it again on Friday night, breaking her own world record to win her first world championship in 50.68 seconds.

Femke Bol of the Netherlands won silver in 52.27 seconds, and Muhammad finished third in 53.13.

For the indefinite future, McLaughlin’s only real battle appears to be with the clock: When will she break the world record next?

Undefeated in the 400-meter hurdles since 2019, when she finished second to Muhammad at the world championships in Doha, Qatar, McLaughlin, 22, has emerged as one of track and field’s most dominant athletes in a discipline that should be one of its most competitive.

Muhammad, who used to own the world record until McLaughlin came along, is an Olympic and world champion. And while injuries have interrupted her training, she is still a fearsome athlete at 32.

Bol, 22, who won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics behind McLaughlin and Muhammad, could be the contemporaneous rival who pushes McLaughlin through the 2024 Paris Olympics, and perhaps beyond. Entering Friday’s race, Bol owned the sixth-fastest time in history. (The other five belonged to McLaughlin and Muhammad.)

But there is still a gap between McLaughlin and Bol, one that was evident as early-evening shadows fell across the track at Hayward Field and McLaughlin opened up an enormous lead by the halfway point. Her romp down the homestretch might as well have been a victory lap. No one was close to her.

McLaughlin, who grew up in central New Jersey and was a teenage prodigy at Union Catholic High School, is quite simply the fastest women’s 400-meter hurdler in history. After breaking Muhammad’s world record in 2021 at the U.S. Olympic trials, McLaughlin broke it again a few weeks later when she won gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Muhammad finished second in both races.

Last month, McLaughlin seemed fairly impassive when she lowered the record again, running 51.41 seconds to win the race at the U.S. championships on this same track. Muhammad, who had an automatic bid to worlds as the defending champion, chose not to compete.

In the run-up to the world championship final, McLaughlin was primed for another extraordinary performance. On Wednesday, she demolished the field in her semifinal heat, slowing several meters from the finish to win in 52.17 seconds, which would have been the world record just three years ago.