Sydney McLaughlin on Her Evolution from 2016 Rio Games to Winning Gold in Tokyo: 'Dream Come True'

Off the track, Sydney McLaughlin has been using her growth as an athlete as inspiration for the New Balance x Sydney Signature Collection

Sydney McLaughlin
Photo: Courtesy of New Balance

Sydney McLaughlin is feeling on top of the world.

Earlier this month, the 22-year-old narrowly topped Dalilah Muhammad, also of Team USA and the defending Olympic champion, to win gold in the women's 400m hurdles at the Summer Games. Finishing the race in 51.46 seconds, McLaughlin also smashed her own world record, which she'd previously set at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.

"Honestly, it's a dream come true — something I have truly dreamt about ever since I was a kid," McLaughlin tells PEOPLE, reflecting on the Olympic event while chatting about her upcoming footwear and apparel collaboration with New Balance.

Her performance in Tokyo was a victory lap following her previous Olympic experience when she failed to make the final in her event at the 2016 Rio Games, where she competed at 16 years old as one of the youngest American track athletes in history.

Sydney McLaughlin
Courtesy of New Balance

"I think 2016 definitely just taught me a lot about the stage in this high-level competition. Going into Tokyo, I was much more prepared mentally and emotionally," she says. "I am grateful to the experience of 2016, even though it wasn't the best. I can truly appreciate all of that because it prepared me for Tokyo this year."

This time around, McLaughlin says her biggest obstacle was "just being patient with myself."

"I think going in, I knew it was gonna be a very fast race. It was definitely a tough one, but my training had been in a place where I knew I was capable of going that fast," she shares. "It was really about executing and the confidence in myself to just go out there and do what I knew how to do."

After Tokyo, McLaughlin has been excited to launch a new venture. The athlete is releasing her New Balance x Sydney Signature Collection, which showcases her rise from young track athlete to world record holder and reigning Olympic gold medalist.

Sydney McLaughlin
Courtesy of New Balance

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Sydney McLaughlin
Courtesy of New Balance

"I started working on this almost two years ago, and it was something that was supposed to come out last year after the Olympics, but it got pushed," McLaughlin tells PEOPLE. "So it's been a long time that we've been working on it. It's been really cool to just have the opportunity to create something that I can kind of call my own."

One of the themes of the collaboration is also one of McLaughlin's personal mottos: "Be the first you." A butterfly motif is present across the collection, which McLaughlin says holds a special meaning to her both personally and professionally.

"This idea of evolving and growing into this beautiful creation, I think, over this past year for me has definitely been one of the main themes of my life, so it's cool that the collection also reflects that," she explains. "New Balance first came to me with the idea of incorporating the butterfly because they knew that was something very close to me. Ever since I was young, my father always told me to 'be the butterfly.'"

Next, McLaughlin is set to compete next at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon. As an athlete, she explains that she's already feeling the pressure to ask herself, "what are we working on next?"

But before she gets back to training, McLaughlin says she's taking some time to soak in all that she's accomplished so far.

"It's one of those moments I truly want to just enjoy before progressing on to what's to come," she shares, adding: "Right now I'm just trying to turn my brain off and enjoy this time."

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