Francena McCorory wins the 400m at the IAAF Continental Cup, Marrakech 2014 (© Getty Images)
This year was the year when Francena McCorory stopped being primarily just a team player and made a name for herself with a series of sparkling performances which saw her regularly stand on the uppermost step of the podium, and finally without anyone accompanying her.
Triumphs at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, IAAF Diamond League meetings in New York and Glasgow, and the end-of-season finale at the IAAF Continental Cup have also marked her down as one of the women probably to watch when the medals are decided at next summer’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
However, it has been a long road to the top for the 26-year-old from the Virginia city of Hampton, and sometimes a rocky one.
From being a prodigious teenage talent to reaching this point in her career has effective taken eight hard years.
In 2006, while a student at Bethel High School in her home town, she set world junior best indoors over 300m. Notwithstanding the unusual distance, it advertised that she had a rare ability.
She broke that mark again just two weeks into 2007 but then had one of the unluckiest years of any athlete could imagine, first pulling her hamstring just a few weeks after her record run, and later in the year suffering a broken toe in a car accident.
Her competitive year in 2007 finished before the end of January.
In January 2008, she was involved in another car accident, this time injuring her lower back and pelvis, and although she recovered enough to reduce her personal best to 51.54 in a local meeting, she crashed out in the heats of the US Championships that year, ending any hopes that she would be on the plane to the Olympic Games in Beijing that summer.
However, McCorory’s dreams didn’t die at the US Trials in Eugene that summer. Every year since then she has improved and gradually reduced her times over one lap of the track. Her best now stands at 49.48, set when winning the US title in Sacramento this summer.
She finished just out of the medals at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, finishing fourth, and then got her first major championships medal in the 4x400m, running the anchor leg to deliver the US team the victory.
Twelve months later, she made a similar contribution to the team that won the 4x400m gold medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“I was so tired after my leg (in London) because I ran my absolute heart out. Allyson Felix helped me up, I said, 'I'm tired.' She said, 'I'm tired too, but you have to get up' (while) knowing I am infamous for falling out (over) after I'm finished running,” reflected McCorory. “That made this moment even funnier. You had to be there. The look on her face was priceless.”
Turn the clock forward to 2014 and the entire year produced another set of priceless experiences.
McCorory got her first individual global honour when winning at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, and she then produced another vital stint for the US team on the third leg of the 4x400m, which eventually won in a 2014 world-leading indoor time of 3:24.83.
“Winning a world title is most awesome because it was my main goal for this year and it's always good to set goals and achieve them in the end,” commented McCorory. “It makes all of those hard gruelling days at practice well worth it.”
More often than not, training takes place at her alma mater Hampton University with coach Maurice Pierce.
A 2010 graduate of the university, McCorory has no trouble keeping her finger on the pulse of the area, even when travelling the world for competition.
“All of my family and friends currently reside in Hampton so I never miss a beat,” McCorory said.
The network includes an extensive extended family of 21 half or full siblings, all of whom McCorory describes as “very supportive.”
McCorory's engagement with the sport began in the sixth grade, around the age of 12. It took a little time for her to find the right event, “but when I discovered my ability I absolutely fell in love (with 400m running). I still hold the high school national record for the indoor 400m dash (as well as the indoor 300m) so I hope that continues to stay (intact) for a long time.”
McCorory said one of her main goals for 2015 is to continue to perfect her craft in the 400m with the added target of, “trying not to fall out at the end of every race!”
In addition to having a reputation for collapsing dramatically once across the line, McCorory is also known for certain other things around the international circuit.
“I have a major sweet tooth,” McCorory said. “I am the girl known for having all the snacks."
Other titbits of information she imparted which fall into the category of ‘Things You Didn’t Know About Francena McCorory’ include a desire to own a pot-belly pig and she has other plans as well.
“When I have finished competing, I would like to be a mortician because I've always wanted to be in a line of work that prevents me from dealing with complaining customers,” McCorory said, perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek. “It's also great job security as well,” she joked.
However, after her successes in 2014, she doesn’t need to think about stocking up on the embalming fluid just yet.
Will Seymour for the IAAF