As always, track strives to raise profile: But can we please talk about Sydney McLaughlin?

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INDIANAPOLIS -- For as long as there is track and field, there will be debate about the state of track and field. I have covered this sport for 50 years, and it has always been this way.

So let’s not debate it on the eve of the sport’s first World Championships on U.S. soil, at Eugene, Ore., next month. Let’s marvel, instead, at the sport's quality in the United States.

More sports: Pike's Lynna Irby, Purdue's Kara Winger make U.S. team for World Championships

More sports: Injury contributes to Cole Hocker's stunning elimination from 1,500 at nationals

There are issues with the college and pro levels of the sport. But the bottom of the pyramid – the high schools – is deep and wide, and that becomes reflected later.

Depth is such that Olympic medalists such as Gabby Thomas, Raven Saunders, Michelle Carter, Ashley Spencer, Paul Chelimo and Clayton Murphy did not make the world team from the USA Championships at Eugene. Another medalist, Sandi Morris, would not have made it without a clutch clearance – and she went on to a world-leading pole vault.

Also out was Indianapolis 1,500-meter runner Cole Hocker, who was sixth at Tokyo last year in bettering the Olympic record. His agent said he has been injured, and sources told IndyStar it is a stress fracture.

Athleticism, drama, storylines . . . track and field has so much that it is almost too much.

With all that, there is not a single name recognizable to a mainstream sports audience, with the possible exception of Allyson Felix. And Felix, 36, is on a retirement tour.

If there is a potential breakout figure, it is Sydney McLaughlin. On Saturday, she lowered the world record in the 400-meter hurdles for a third time in 363 days, clocking 51.41 seconds.

Statisticians compare relative worth of world records, and McLaughlin is starting to approach FloJo territory. (Coincidentally, Bob Kersee has coached both McLaughlin and Florence Griffith Joyner, who set her otherworldly world record of 10.49 in the 100 meters in the 1988 Olympic Trials at Indianapolis.)

If McLaughlin can dip under 51 seconds – quite plausible – that would be worth 1,302 points on World Athletics scoring tables. By comparison, FloJo’s 10.49 is worth 1,314.

McLaughlin won two gold medals at Tokyo but was obscured by gymnast Simone Biles, swimmer Caeleb Dressel and pandemic issues.

Sydney McLaughlin (USA) celebrates winning the gold medal in the women's 400m hurdles final in a world record time during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Olympic Stadium.
Sydney McLaughlin (USA) celebrates winning the gold medal in the women's 400m hurdles final in a world record time during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Olympic Stadium.

McLaughlin, at 22 and living in Los Angeles, is better positioned than almost anyone else to become a sports celebrity on the level of a Biles or a Serena Williams. McLaughlin would be 28 at the 2028 L.A. Olympics.

She is not the only superstar-in-waiting.

Erriyon Knighton, 18, has run 200 meters faster than Usain Bolt did at the same age. Knighton was beaten Sunday by reigning world champion Noah Lyles, whose finger-pointing finish should fuel a rivalry. But make no mistake: Knighton is the future.

Team USA heads into the World Championships with a staggering 17 world leaders, eight men and nine women (and all four women’s throws). That doesn’t include five relays in which Americans will be favored.

They won’t all win gold medals, although Ryan Crouser is as dominant in shot put as swimmer Katie Ledecky is in distance freestyle. Crouser has the 12 longest throws of all time, all in the past 13 months and four of them on Friday.

Indiana’s four representatives at worlds, all women, will be: Lynna Irby, Pike, 400 meters; Molly Seidel, Notre Dame, marathon; Rachel Dincoff, DeKalb, discus; Kara Winger, Purdue, javelin.

Clearly, there is track fatigue in TrackTown because attendance over four days totaled 13,306, as announced by USA Tr,ack & Field. It was the lowest ever for a meet that was a world trials, according to official figures.

Let’s face it: Indianapolis would do better, as long as IUPUI’s Carroll Stadium track were resurfaced. But there has not been a major meet here since the 2007 nationals, and USA Track & Field has taken no action to bring one to its home city.

Maybe having the World Championships in Eugene, and the extensive NBC coverage, will expand the sport’s niche. More likely, it will not.

That’s not on the athletes. Never have they been better.

Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at david.woods@indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Sydney McLaughlin is a potential breakout figure in track