Virginia's Olympians: Francena McCorory


The state of Virginia has four of their own natives in former high school preps heading to the 2012 Olympic Games in London as members of the U.S. track & field team. Francenca McCorory is one of the four. The former sprint star at Bethel High School and Hampton University, McCorory qualified for the 400 meter dash with a third place finish at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon and will likely run on the American 4x400 meter relay.


In her first summer as a profesional last summer, McCorory qualified and competed at the World Championships in South Korea which she finished 4th in the finals of the 400 meter dash and earned a gold medal on the first place U.S. 4x400 meter relay. The American indoor record holder at 400 meters and three-time NCAA 400 meter dash champion, McCorory's success began in high school at Bethel High School under the guidance of coach Eddie Williams which included setting high school national records indoors in the 400 and 300 meter dash and won numerous state individual and team titles for the Bruins. was fortunate to interview McCorory after racing in Paris this weekend at the IAAF Diamond League Meet as she prepares for her first Olympic Games.


All photos by Victah Sailer of Interview with 2012 Olympian - Francena McCorory


How did you first get started in track and field and why?
I first started running in the 6th grade. it was more of a hobby for me and my friends and something to do after school. We loved it.


In high school, you started off primarily as a short sprints in the 55, 100, and 200 and later evolved to the longer sprints. What caused that shift in emphasis in events?
The shift in events wasn't my choice! Believe me!  At the end of my high school career and as I transitioned into college, both my high school coach and my college coach saw that the longer sprints such as the 400 would be a better fit for me. 
What impact did your high school coach Eddie Williams at Bethel have on you not only in high school but later into your future success in college and professional?
Coach Eddie was a great coach. The best coach in all of VA if you ask me. He was very patient with me and he is passionate about coaching over all. He really taught me how to go for my dreams and most important to believe in myself. Thats the one lesson he taught me that I will carry for the rest of my life.
Your high school indoor national record 400 meter race on a flat track at the Nike Indoor Nationals is still one of the best high school performances I've ever witnessed. What does that performance rank with some of your other great accomplishments after high school for you personally?
To this day it still ranks number one. That race was so much fun and there was so much energy in the Sportsplex the day that I ran. I still remember it as if it were yesterday, and its one of my performances that I'll never forget as long as I live. 
When you were a senior in high school and especially after breaking the indoor national records in the 400 and 300, you were heavily recruited by virtually all the top college track programs in the nation yet you decided to stay locally and attend Hampton University. How difficult was that decision process and looking back now how do you view your college decision?
It was very tough to decide between all of the colleges and I'm aware that I turned down some really great schools, but looking back I wouldnt change a thing. I'm glad I stayed near my friends and family and the individuals that have supported me since day one. 
You had some setbacks in your college career, particularly early on as an underclassmen which included injuries and a car accident. How difficult and trying were those early years at Hampton after coming out of high school with such great expectations? Did you ever doubt or worry that you would ever be able to catch up on the lost time?
If I said those years weren't trying, I wouldn't be telling the truth but I'm thankful that I managed to push through. I did doubt and worry from time to time but all in all I kept remembering that God had a good plan for my life and that He would work everything out for my good in the end and He did!
You came back strong though in your junior year and seniors years at Hampton winning 3 NCAA national titles at 400 meters (2 indoor, 1 outdoor) as well as setting the American record indoors at 400 meters (50.54). What did you learn about yourself in your comeback as a junior and senior year?
I didn't even realize I had done all of those things until you mentioned them!  I learned that if I could stay strong and keep focus that the sky would be the limit for me. And that goes for anyone else can use setbacks as comebacks and push through their obstacles. No matter how big or small. 

At what moment did you feel like you were back physically and also had the confidence to go to the next level and realize your potential?
It had to be the moment I walked off the line and found out that I had broken the 19 year old indoor American record. I was in shock for a few days after that because I couldn't believe I did it. 
You got your first experience competing at the World stage last summer in Daegu for the 2011 IAAF World Championships. You ended up finishing 4th in the finals in your first international championship meet and also earned a gold medal as a leg on the 4x400 meter relay. How did you feel about your first summer and championship meet as a professional?
Overall I was proud of myself to have made it that far at my first world championship meet. Of course, I went in expecting to medal in my individual race, but I'm young in the sport, so I'm thankful to have gotten fourth on my first go around. 
Is there anything specific that you learned from Daegu or competing in Europe last summer that you can use in the coming Olympic games?
I learned that the food is very different and I've gotten pretty used to the time differences in Europe, so I think knowing those things will give me an advantage.
You probably knew going into the Olympic Trials that it would be tougher to make the Olympic team than it was to make the World Championship team last summer, but what did you think of your chances of earning one of 3 London-bound spots entering the Trials?
I knew it would be tough but I also knew that this was my dream and I had been working really hard for it. So I knew it would be a battle, but I was prepared to fight by any means necessary. 

In the first two rounds in Eugene at the Trials, you were the fastest qualifier. Did having the fastest qualifying time after two rounds give your more confidence in your chances to make the top 3 or did you wonder if you used up too much energy to make the finals?
It gave me more confidence and it also put me in a great position as far as getting a good lane in the finals, so if anything it made me more confident.
You executed a bold strategy in the finals to literally try and run away from the field and Sanya Richards-Ross with a blistering first 200 meters. The last 200 meters, you dropped to third but held on for the final spot for London. How did you feel about the race plan after the fact? How painful was that last straightaway trying to hold onto third place?
Thats usually not my race plan to go out as hard so I felt that I could have executed a bit better. As far as the last straightaway, it was pretty tough but there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't get the third spot. I just had faith and God helped me get to the finish line. 
After college and becoming a professionally sponsored athlete for adidas, you could have explored other coaching opportunities but opted to stay with your college coach Maurice Pierce at Hampton University to train you as a professional. What made you decide to stay with your college coach?
I decided to stay because I have had a lot of success under my college coach and we have a great relationship. And if it isn't broke, why fix it? 
Hampton University women's program is represented by two Olympians in the London Games between yourself and Kellie Wells in the 100 meter hurdles. How cool is it to make the trip and be a teammate once again with a former college teammate in Kellie?
It is really cool. Kellie and I both have been working extremely hard towards this, so to see our dreams coming true right before our eyes is really awesome! 
What is your racing schedule and training plan like heading into the Olympic Games? You just raced in Paris at the Golden League meet. Are there any more races on your schedule before London?
No when I leave Paris, I am basically heading home to train, do some fine tuning, and then I'm off to the Games!
What do you see as some of the pros and cons of racing and traveling to meets in Europe during the summer? With experience racing in European meats, is it easier to adjust or be more comfortable in a trip or competing in a place like London instead of Daegu, South Korea like last summer?
It's tough at first, but after a while you get used to everything and it's not as bad. I would say it is easier competing in London verus Korea because the time difference isn't as bad. But once you get there a few days before your race, you settle in just fine.
What are your goals or aspirations for your first Olympic Games?
My goals are to run a personal best in the 400 meters and also on the 4x400 meter relay. I also plan to bring home two medals!
Outside of the competition, what are you most looking forward to at the Olympic Games in London?
I am looking forward to the shopping! I have been to London several times and they always have cool clothes and great buys!