The Sydney and Femke show and the Battle of Two Coaches 

Sydney McLaughlin Levrone is among the finest athletes in American track and field history. An athletic prodigy, Sydney has worked long and hard to perfect her specialty, the 400-meter hurdles, putting the WR into the unimaginable realm of 50.68.

Over the last few years, Sydney has worked with Bobby Kersee, one of our finest, if not most eccentric, athletic coaches in the entire sport. Eccentricity is not a bad thing, and his athletes love him.

Sydney McLaughlin sets new WR of 50.68 in 400m hurdles, World Athletics Championships
Eugene, Oregon, USA
July 15-26, 2022, photo by Kevin Morris

Bobby Kersee has coached great multi-eventers, like his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and great sprinters, like Allyson Felix. He has a fine group of athletes from Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Athing Mu, Taylor McLaughlin (Sydney’s brother), Brandon Miller, Jenna Prandini, and Keni Harrison. Bobby develops sprinters, hurdlers, multi-eventers, you name it, Bobby has coached the event.

I first met the guy in 1994, sitting in the stands in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he knew me. He sat beside me and began discussing Ben Johnson, the disgraced Canadian sprinter. Bobby hoped the guy would break a WR again, and as he was being tested repeatedly, it would show that just because someone adds drugs to a regimen does not make the athlete superior. “You can not make a racehorse out of a workhorse,” Bobby said. He was incensed that fans could think there was an easy road to greatness in our sport.

Bobby Kersee is speaking about Athing Mu, which was designed by Deji Ogeyingbo.

With all due candor and respect, I think Bobby Kersee is out of his mind, but in a good way. I recall a conversation with Bobby about being nearly arrested wearing a hoodie and ordering a pizza in California until the police officer noticed it was Bobby. The man is painfully honest, and he is a superior coach. His strangeness is not an act but an example of how unique characters are in whatever their specialty.

Last year, Bobby was being given a lot of bad media because neither Sydney nor Athing Mu was racing much. Truth is, two different situations. I am not sure he was responsible, but he protects his athletes.

Athing Mu is another child prodigy, and she needed a break. When she lost in Budapest, she was mad and returned to Nike Pre Classic with fire in her eyes. Bobby encouraged her to take a break and supported her build to Pre. She will be ready in 2024 for Paris, mark my word. Last year, Bobby was speaking to me via phone and told me that, in the near future, Athing, when she was ready, would go for the 800m world record. I have no reason not to believe him.

Sydney McLaughlin takes the 400m USATF New York Grand Prix
Continental Tour Gold
presented by Global Athletics &Marketing Inc., photo by Kevin Morris

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone needed a break. Although her interviews have been few and far between, they have been tremendous. I have to say Sydney is an excellent interviewee, but she seemed like 2023 was a year to renew. She was injured before Budapest and was not seen for the rest of the season. I believe Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone will return in 2024, but I know little about her injury recovery.

Bobby Kersee has a fantastic track record, no pun intended, of preparing athletes to compete in their most challenging races. Sydney McLaughlin has the entire world gunning for her in the 400m hurdles. Her foray into the 400m flat in 2023 gave her a respite from the ten-hurdle race, the 400m hurdles. But in racing in 2023, Sydney developed a knee issue.

In the last 16 months, Femke Bol has honed her speed, endurance, and focus. In winter 2023, Bol broke the WR for the 400 meters indoors. Outdoors, she won the 400-meter hurdles, minus Sydney, and took gold in the 4x400m after collapsing in the mixed 4x400m at the finish line.

Femke Bol takes 400m hurdles in Eugene, photo by Brian Eder for RunBlogRun

Femke Bol is coached by Swiss coach Laurent Meuwly. Laurent took Femke aside after Tokyo 2021, where she ran 52.03 ER for the 400-meter hurdles and began to change her steps. The goal was to run seven hurdles with 14 steps and then, over the last three hurdles, move to 15 steps once again. The concept was to use Femke’s strong finish to her advantage.

Last summer, at the London Diamond League, Femke Bol improved her personal best to 51.45, a new European record for the 400-meter hurdles. What will she run in 2024?

This past World Indoors, March 1-3,2024, Femke Bol broke the WR at 400 meters for a second time and ran a brilliant leg on her team (Netherlands) 4x400m, taking a second gold.

GLASGOW, UK – MAR 2: Image of Femke BOL at the World Athletics Indoor Championships on MAR 2, 2024, in GLASGOW, UK (Photo by Dan Vernon for World Athletics).

Laurent Meuwly has honed Femke Bol’s impressive 400m flat speed and built her speed over the past several winters, where she has sent National records, World Records, and European records over the 400 meter flat.

Femke Bol noted, “My favorite event is the 400m hurdles.” She has significantly improved in speed and strength since 2023 and should be ready to challenge Sydney McLaughlin Levrone in Paris.

Femke Bol, Wanda Diamond League
London Athletics Meet
July 23, 2023, London, England, U.K., photo by Kevin Morris

What is fascinating is that both Femke Bol and Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone are sponsored by New Balance Athletics, the world’s largest privately held footwear company. At $7.5 billion in sales, New Balance supports the sport with athletes in North America and Europe and events globally.

 

The TRACK at New Balance, located on their campus near Boston, has hosted two world-class indoor meetings, one in 2023 and one in 2024. This year, they hosted the NCAA Division 1 Indoor and their NB Indoor Nationals. In 2023, Femke Bol ran a world best for the 500 meters, opening her grand year in 2023.

Femke Bol sets the World record at 500 meters! New Balance Indoor Grand Prix Track & Field
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
February 3, 2023
World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting, photo by Kevin Morris

New Balance loves the track. Their team makes superb running shoes and specialty running shoes. Do you think they realize how huge Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Femke Bol could be in 2024?

The women exemplify what New Balance stands for, using their God-given talents to pursue excellence through healthy training, racing, and attitudes.

I look forward to spring 2024 (which begins today) for many reasons.

 

One will be answered in Paris in August 2024, as one of my dream races becomes a reality. I see Sydney McLauglin-Levrone line up with Femke Bol, next to her, in the 400-meter hurdles. And in just around 50.8 seconds, we will see just who the finest Women’s 400-meter hurdler in the world truly is, with all of the finest lined up on a purple MONDO track at the Stade de France, with 80,000 screaming global sports fans on-site and billions around the world on iPhones, Ipads and laptops, watching one of the singular great races of the Olympiad.

This writer can picture both coaches, Bobby Kersee and Laurent Meuwly, on different sides of the track as their prized 400-meter hurdlers run the race of their lives. It should be a tremendous fifty seconds for the sport of athletics.

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