Francena McCorory has been on some big stages, but this is the biggest.
McCorory runs for a world title in the 400 meters this weekend at the IAAF Word Championships in Daegu, Korea, two months after qualifying for the event by finishing second to three-time 200-meter champion
at the USA Track and Field Championships in Oregon.
"I've been training for this track meet all year, so I'm ready to get on the track and just run," McCorory said Thursday from Korea. "(The World Championships) are a little bit harder, but overall, it's the same."
McCorory's first heat in the 400 will be Saturday night, with the semifinals Sunday and the final on Monday night.
'It would be nice if I can get a PR, if I can drop my time," McCorory said. "Lately I've been running 50 seconds. If I can break 50 seconds, I'll be happy with that."
McCorory, a graduate of Bethel High and
, ran the 400 at the USA championships in 50.49, but was edged by Felix, who ran 50.40.
"I just had a really good year this year," said McCorory, who won
titles in both the outdoor and indoor 400 meters at Hampton in 2010 and set the indoor American record in the 400 at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. "I've been trying to put together my race, and it's been coming together really well as far as my practices and everything."
McCorory, also the 2009 NCAA indoor 400 champion, posted a personal best of 50.29 in the 400 earlier this summer in Monaco. Her American indoor record time is 50.54, and she won the 2010 NCAA outdoor title last year in 50.69.
Hampton track and field coach Maurice Pierce is in Korea with McCorory and has witnessed her progress first-hand.
"What is working well for Francena right now is one: she understands what it means to train and compete as a world-class runner; and two: she hasn't been afraid to make mistakes in her races, knowing, with this being her first full season as a professional athlete, that she will make mistakes," Pierce said in an email. "Just as long as we get better every track meet."
McCorory, who won a Virginia-record eight individual state titles at Bethel, said being a professional athlete isn't much different than being a college star, though practice sessions are slightly more intense.
"The atmosphere is different from being in college and being a professional, just the atmosphere in terms of track practice, but it's pretty much the same," McCorory said. "It doesn't feel any different."
Pierce, whose Olympic coaching resume includes Beijing 110-meter hurdles silver medalist David Payne, is thrilled to be a part of the next step in McCorory's career.
"For me to be working with her at this stage is truly a blessing for the both of us," he said. "I am so excited. I have had athletes compete and make the finals of the last three
and the last five out of six World Championships, but this World Championships is special for the both of us, because we have grown together through this journey."
McCorory is grateful to have Pierce by her side.
"It means a lot," she said. "He's been very supportive, and I'm very thankful."
In addition to a multitude of honors, McCorory's college career also included a serious hamstring injury and several car accidents. While she's concentrating solely on the task ahead and aiming for a personal record, Pierce hopes for big-picture rewards in Korea for an athlete who has already overcome so much.