Now, after setting a world junior record in the 400-meter hurdles, she’ll be the youngest American track athlete to compete in an Olympics since 1972, the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The first day, I got here and I had a nervous breakdown and I wasn’t going to run because I was just so nervous,” she told the Journal about the event in Oregon.
“[My coaches] pushed me through it, and now here I am. I am on the team, so I thank them for that.”
The New Jersey native ran her first competitive track race when she was just 6 years old.
“I think sometimes I get caught up in the fact that I haven’t lost a hurdle race, and then I come here and there are girls who are faster than me,” she told ESPN. “I think just realizing that sometimes you have to lose in order to get better. It’s a big thing for me.”
A junior at Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, McLaughlin said she didn’t experience much pressure heading in to the trials.
“Sometimes, I just forget that I’m 16,” she told USA Today. “There’s not as much expectation. You know, I don’t get paid for this. I’m just here for fun.”
Still, she ended the event just two spots behind Sunday’s champion Dalilah Muhammad, who ran a 52.88, and one spot behind Ashley Spencer, who clocked in at 54.02.
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Her competitors, including Spencer – who is seven years McLaughlin’s senior – sang her praises after the event.
“I want to be like her when I grow up,” Spencer told USA Today. “At 16 years old, I wasn’t doing anything. I was running track, but it was like, meh? She’s an Olympian.”
Fourth-place finisher Kori Carter called McLaughlin a “beast.”
“She’s the truth. I was in every single heat with her, and she carries herself like a pro,” Carter told the publication. “I know she’s going to represent the U.S. amazingly.”
The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will kick off on Aug. 5