It’s quite the occasion. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone has chosen the Wanda Diamond League Meeting de Paris to make her season debut. 23 years of age, the star of American athletics will line up for the hurdle-free lap of the track on the Charléty Stadium’s blue track. The women’s world 400 m hurdles champion in Eugene last year, having improved on her own world record with a stratospheric time of 50’’68, she’s benefiting from an invitation from World Athletics for the Budapest Worlds (19 to 27 August) to run her favourite distance. As a result, she’s decided to make the most of the opportunity to test out her peak speed over the flat this summer, as well as running 400 m at the Trials (6 to 9 July in Eugene).
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone was initially due to make her 400 m comeback at the Los Angeles Grand Prix on 27 May. Unfortunately, a minor physical issue with her thigh put paid to this. Therefore, it’s in the French capital on 9 June that we’ll get our first taste of how she performs in an event where her potential is the subject of much speculation. Her record time of 50’’07, which dates back to 2018 when she was 19 years old, is likely to be smashed. So how far can she go? Her trainer, Bob Kersee, has some idea: “Sydney is considered the first real threat to Marita Koch 38-year-old world 400 record” (47’’60), he said in the US paper The Orange County Register. “She can do 50’’ in the 400 m hurdles, so she’s got the speed and stamina, and now she has the necessary aerobic base to run a sub-48’’-time.”
These are the first steps towards the legendary – and long considered untouchable – 47’’60 time posted by the East German in 1985, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s presence in Paris is remarkable on so many levels. The native from New Brunswick (New Jersey) has never participated in France’s most prestigious meeting. On top of that, her appearances in the Wanda Diamond League are few and far between. She’s only contested four races on the circuit since the start of her career, all of them in 2018. Equally telling is the fact that last year, aside from the Trials and the Worlds contested in Oregon, her season amounted to just three meetings. As such, athletics fans in the stands at Charléty, on 9 June, will really be in for a treat. Furthermore, the Olympic 400 m hurdles champion will have her work cut out against the Dominican Marileidy Paulino, Olympic number two and reigning world champion, who has a record of 48’’99.
Lyles, a Wanda Diamond League specialist
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone won’t be the only star from the land of Uncle Sam to perform on the Parisian track in June. With low attendance last year due to the proximity of the Trials, this time there will be numerous Americans making the journey across the big pond. In addition to the 110 m hurdle specialists, headed by Grant Holloway and Devon Allen as already announced, the double world 200 m champion Noah Lyles will also be hitting the track. The third fastest in the world over the distance with 19’’31, he’ll be lining up for the 100 m this year. Down the straight his record stands at 9’’86. Rarely performing in Europe, Lyles has only run in France once before: he won the 200 m at the Meeting de Paris in 2019 in 19’’65. With his sense of showmanship and his 18(!) Wanda Diamond League victories, he’s sure to be a serious contender.
Moon aiming for the moon
In the pole vault, Katie Moon (née Nageotte) is keen for revenge after a lacklustre performance in 2019. In her only appearance at the Meeting de Paris she ranked sixth. Since then, the native of Ohio has been crowned Olympic champion in Tokyo and world champion in Eugene. And she is very much at ease on French soil after winning the meeting in Liévin over the winter. With a personal best of 4.95 m, pole vault fans can expect great things, especially with the added pressure of competing against her toughest rival, Sandi Morris. The world indoor champion 2022, one of the few pole vaulters to have already cleared 5-metres, loves France having won five of the past six meetings there since 2017. The only event missing from her list of wins is Paris, so this will be an opportunity to remedy that.
Valarie Allman meantime has already triumphed at the Charléty Stadium just last year. With a throw of 68.68 m, the Delaware discus thrower overhauled the legendary Sandra Perkovic, as she did in Tokyo to secure the Olympic title in 2021. With six throws in excess of 70 m, for a record of 71.46 m, and 18 competitions with throws of more than 68 m to her credit, Allman is a genuine long-distance throwing machine. Discus fans have already earmarked the meeting in their diaries.
Benjamin in the spotlight
Rai Benjamin is very, very quick. Decide for yourself: four sub-47’’ times in the 400 m hurdles during his career, twelve sub-47’’50s, peaking at 46’’17 in the final of the last Olympic Games. Unfortunately, this comes right in the midst of an incredible generation of hurdlers featuring the likes of Karsten Warholm and Alison Dos Santos. Despite that, he still boasts an Olympic and a world title with the American 4x400 m relay team, together with a slew of silver medals in the hurdles. His race around the Parisian circuit will be one to watch. It could well be quick, very quick, especially since Benjamin will be opposed to his compatriot Trevor Bassitt, in bronze in Eugene.
And if this dream line-up leaves you in any way wanting, you’ll also get the chance to admire the reigning world champion in the shot put, Chase Ealey, world number two in the javelin, Kara Winger, world indoor 800 m champion Ajee Wilson, the supersonic Abby Steiner (21''77 last year) and the fourth fastest woman of all time, Gabrielle Thomas (21''61) over 200 m, as well as the long jump showman, Marquis Dendy. And many more besides…