Sydney McLaughlin looked to her left and saw the numbers "51.90." Her first thought: "Oh my gosh!"
Now, at long last, the 400-meter hurdles world record belongs to her.
On Sunday night at U.S. Olympic track trials, McLaughlin finally outraced Dalilah Muhammad to earn the victory, and the record, that Muhammad kept grabbing whenever they met. McLaughlin's 51.90 was good enough to beat Muhammad by 0.52 seconds. It shattered Muhammad's old world record by 0.26.
"It's one of those moments you think about and dream about and play in your head that you'll put it together," said McLaughlin, who not long ago aligned with coach Bobby Kersee.
Her record was the highlight of a day that included other kinds of history.
McLaughlin's race was delayed by about four hours. She said the wait "was a little bit of a throw-in our plan."
"But we were prepared for that," she said. "Bobby always talks about Muhammad Ali, and always having to be ready for that left hook."
In this case, it was another Muhammad — Dalilah Muhammad — who has, in her own way, been preparing McLaughlin for this day.
This marked the third straight major race in which the two squared off and a world record was set. The last two times, it was Muhammad who came out on top. It happened first two years ago on a rainy day in Des Moines, Iowa, at national championships. Then again, a few months after that at worlds in Qatar. McLaughlin ran a 52.23 at worlds but lost by .07 seconds. That mark would have been the world record had she run it before Muhammad started rewriting the book that season.
"Dalilah is a great competitor, and I was growing into my own person," McLaughlin explained when asked if she was deflated after running such good times, only to come in second.
She also credited a renewed sense of faith and, of course, Kersee, for this breakthrough.
Kersee is the legend who has, over the years, squeezed the most out of some of the greatest in the sport, including Allyson Felix, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Florence Griffith Joyner.
He put McLaughlin on a new plan — getting her focused on improving her form by running shorter hurdles courses.
"It was trusting the process, and a lot of things you can't really see coming," McLaughlin said. "But just having the childlike faith in trusting everything is going to work out. Bobby's really good at that."
Muhammad said getting to the starting line in this, a year that started with injuries and a COVID-19 scare, was never a sure thing. She said she couldn't break 55 seconds to start the season.
"Almost for a month straight, I kept asking (my coach) every day at practice, 'Are you sure. Are you sure?'" Muhammad said. "I'm extremely grateful to be here today and so thankful those setbacks are behind me."
Up next is the Olympics. The finals in the 400 hurdles are set for Aug. 4. The world record in this event is always in jeopardy.
"She definitely pushes me," Muhammad said during her interview on the track. Then, she turned to McLaughlin and said: "Congratulations, you world-record holder. It's going to be a battle in Tokyo for sure."