Far Beyond Gold, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2024

ISBN 978-0-7852-9799-4

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone has had a stellar career, winning the 400h in 2020 (or 2021!) Olympics and the World Championship in 2022, breaking the world record four times in 2021 and 2022, ultimately running 50.68.  She has also won Olympic and World 4 by 400 relay medals. The age of just 24 makes it pretty young to issue an autobiography. The book reveals a great athlete but quite a complex person.

In the introduction, she writes: “At the heart of this book is a simple question: who is Sydney? Finding the right answer hasn’t always been easy for me. It’s involved years of inner turmoil. Loads of fear. And a whole lot of questions and uncertainty. I’m guessing you can relate to those struggles. All of us want to know who we are, why we are here, and what will make us happy and fulfilled. We want a purpose, a strong sense of identity, and clarity about how we’re supposed to spend our days”.

Far Beyond Gold, Sydney McLaughlin_Levrone

She adds a purpose for the book: “I want my story to encourage anyone who struggles with fear and anxiety. If God can turn me from fear to faith, I know he can do the same for you”.

Sydney qualified for the 2016 Olympics at the age of 16. It was a phenomenal achievement but one that caused her a lot of anxiety—“I was petrified of the Olympics.” Having only run junior races, where she usually won, she struggled to cope with competing on the world stage with no chance of winning. [She reached the semi-finals and came fifth].

She chose to go to college in Kentucky to be coached by the legendary Coach Flo (Edrick Floréal). At the end of her first year, Coach Flo accepted a job at the University of Texas. In a situation beyond belief to a British reader – regarding the relationships between athlete and coach, Sydney records learning of this in a phone call from Coach Flo, who simply said to her: “We’re going to Texas.”  Flo may have been going to Texas, but Sydney was not! She opted to terminate the relationship with her coach, leave college, and go professional. She comments on this incident in the book: “Still to this day, I struggle to trust people in part because of what happened in college.”

Femke Bol congrats, Sydney McLaughlin, and Dalilah Muhammed, photo by World Athletics

In 2019, she won the Diamond League final, beating Dalilah Muhammed, but in the World Championship a month later, the order was reversed, with Sydney having to settle for silver.  She describes her reaction as “the lowest emotional point of my racing career.”  She describes the solution she found to her anxieties in terms of a new relationship with God: “I had been running from God for years, fearful that truly following him would strip me of my freedom” before coming to a deeper understanding of the Christian faith.  She met and married Andre Levrone – hence the name change.

There is – to me at least – a strange comment on her attitude to the event in which she is a world record holder.  The book says of the 2022 US National Champs: “Everything in me wanted to win that race, and everything in me wanted to do it in such a way that I could retire from the hurdles. Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe I was made for the hurdles, but the tension that your body undergoes training for that event has pushed me to my limits. I prayed that if I ran fast enough and put the record out of reach, I would be content moving to another event. I could find another obsession on track, a new goal to dedicate myself to”. The sentiment was repeated about the World Championship just over a month later: “The final was going to be the most important race of my life; I was certain of that. If I won and broke the world record, I could leave the 400-meter hurdles behind. If I didn’t, I couldn’t leave the event until I got another shot at a world championship”.

Sydney McLaughlin, 400m hurdles, just before the final, photo by Kevin Morris

The first time I saw Sydney run was in Oslo in 2019 when she was just 19. She won the Diamond League race in 54.16, but reading her post-race quotes, you could easily think it had been a disaster.  She said of the race: “I didn’t get out well. I hit the first hurdle with my knee but recovered well by fighting back. I’ve got to work on my first half of the race, the second half is always my strongest. It was a really great field and exciting to be a part of. It wasn’t the cleanest race for me, but I came back strong, and that shows me where I am fitness-wise. It was a sloppy race, but I pulled through”.

I then saw her win the Diamond League Final in Zurich a month later in 52.85 when the same self-critical attitude was present: “It wasn’t the cleanest race for me personally, but knowing where my fitness is at, it was really great for me to come out here and win my first Diamond League title. I have a month before Doha to go back and fix things”.

Sydney McLaughlin, 400-meter hurdles, World Athletics Championships
Eugene, Oregon, USA
July15-26, 2022, photo by Kevin Morris

Dalilah Muhammed won the World Championship in 2019 with Sydney second, taking positives from the race: “I knew it would be fast, but I didn’t think it would be that fast. I did everything I could, and at least the US got one. I gave it everything I had, I’m still young, and every day is a new experience.”

Which event we will see Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone at this summer remains to be seen.