Sydney McLaughlin isn’t planning to think much about running or the Olympics this month. After returning home from Tokyo last Monday, she did laundry, re-packed and left again for vacation with her family.
That time for relaxation is an important part of McLaughlin’s journey, which up until now has been a nonstop ascent. In just five years, the 22-year-old has turned professional, competed in two Olympic Games, won two gold medals and set a world record in the 400-meter hurdles.
Now, McLaughlin can add fashion designer and businesswoman to that list. The American track star on Monday revealed her first footwear and apparel collection in partnership with New Balance. The inspiration for the fashion line aligns with McLaughlin’s own sensational career.
“My dad, ever since I was young, he’s always told me to be the butterfly,” she told Just Women’s Sports last week. “It symbolizes growth and becoming who you’re meant to be, this beautiful creation. I look at butterflies as rare, as hard to catch, very unique, no two are the same, and that’s one of the main mottoes of the collection: ‘Be the first you.’
“So it’s really a beautiful representation of myself and my style and the things that I truly believe in and stand for.”
McLaughlin embodied the “butterfly” no better than in this past year.
In June, she became the first woman to break 52 seconds in the 400m hurdles when she won the event at the United States Olympic Trials in 51.90 seconds. She beat her own time earlier this month at the Tokyo Olympics, winning gold and setting a new world record with a time of 51.46 seconds. McLaughlin followed that up with another gold medal in the 4x400m relay alongside U.S. teammates Allyson Felix, Dalilah Muhammad and Athing Mu.
McLaughlin was just 16 when she competed in her first Olympics in Rio, where she failed to qualify for the final in the 400m hurdles. She leaned on that experience heading into Tokyo.
“I felt a lot more confident going into this one mentally,” she said.
Last summer, McLaughlin started training with Bobby Kersee, who’s coached athletes in the past 11 Olympics, and alongside Felix. The 35-year-old, who’s now the most decorated track and field Olympian in U.S. history, helped McLaughlin learn to trust the timing.
“People run really fast, really early in the season, so I was a little bit nervous about where our training was at,” McLaughlin said. “And [Felix] just reminded me that Bobby knows what he’s doing. She’s seen it for so many years now, that he’ll have us ready when the moment matters, which he did.”
When McLaughlin crossed the finish line of the 400m hurdle race in Tokyo, gold medal secured, she looked almost emotionless. She hugged Muhammad, who finished just behind her to win silver, before dropping to the track and looking up to the sky.
“I was just in my head thanking God for getting me across the line,” she said. “In the moment, I was just so grateful for the opportunity to bring this gold home for not only my family but also my coach.
“This is an event that he loves and he’s never had a gold medalist. So just being able to do that for him and check this off his list, I was really excited and happy for that.”
McLaughlin knows she hasn’t achieved so much so quickly without her support system. That includes New Balance, the shoe company she signed with in 2018 right after leaving the University of Kentucky and turning professional.
“It’s just like family, honestly. I’ve worn their stuff ever since I was in high school and they’ve been so supportive and friendly from the jump,” she said. “So when it came time to truly choose the company that would be behind me on and off the track, it was honestly a no-brainer.”
McLaughlin worked with New Balance to design each piece of the new collection. In addition to leaning heavily into the theme of butterflies, she focused on her personal style.
The collection features a stylish hooded shrug, a sleek crop bra, a crossbody bag and a jumpsuit among other items, all with the intention of giving customers the option to go from a run to a night out on the town.
“I never leave the house without a fanny pack or hat, so I definitely had to make sure those things were in there,” McLaughlin said. “From there, just athletic wear that’s also comfortable and some leisure pieces. Truly looking at my own wardrobe and what represents my style and then building from there.”
McLaughlin and her team at New Balance started planning this collection about two years ago. They pushed the release back to 2021 after COVID-19 forced the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled for last summer.
“From the first meeting to the final approval process, Syd has been so engaged in bringing this to life. Her drive on the track easily transitioned to the design of this collection,” said Rachel Walder, New Balance apparel designer. “We know this is just the beginning for Syd and we’re excited to play a part in her journey on and off the track.”
“I truly loved designing and making something that I can call my own,” McLaughlin said. “It’s definitely something I was looking forward to doing, and if I get the opportunity again, I will take advantage of it, for sure.”
Fashion and business might be in McLaughlin’s long-term future, but she’s not thinking about that just yet. There’s still so much left for her to accomplish on the track.
McLaughlin’s profile rises with each medal and record-setting performance. Whenever she starts to feel the weight of the expectations that come with that level of success, she thinks about what’s gotten her to this point: the journey, the evolution, the metamorphosis of a butterfly.
“For me personally, pressure is this expectation of something possibly taking place, whether it’s me losing or not placing where I want to place,” McLaughlin said. “But most of the time, these thoughts that we have end up never even really happening.
“So it’s just removing the weight, having the confidence in the positive things that I want to take place and speaking those into existence.”