From Richmond to Rome, from Des Moines to Daegu, Olympic gold medalist Francena McCorory has run hundreds of races. Never had she blazed 400 meters like this.
At the USA outdoor track championships Saturday in Iowa, McCorory ran a personal best of 50.01 seconds to qualify for her second world championships. But it wasn't good enough.
It wasn't good enough to beat Natasha Hastings, and it certainly wasn't good enough to satisfy her coach.
"She should have won that race," said Maurice Pierce, McCorory's coach since her college days at Hampton University.
Pierce contends and McCorory confesses that she ran the first 200 meters "too relaxed," allowing Hastings to build a margin that withstood McCorory's strong finish.
"I thought I had it in me," McCorory said of her career best. "It's been my goal for awhile to run under 49 seconds, and 50.01 is pretty darn close."
Pierce's take, like any good coach's, is more critical.
"After the race I told her, 'If you run down somebody that ran 49.94, and you're better than them, then you should have at least run 49.5,'" he said. "She just made a minor mistake, (and) I'd rather it happen right now than (at the worlds)."
The error relegated McCorory to second place at nationals for the third time in four years. But since the top three advance to the worlds, McCorory will head to Moscow in August.
McCorory finished fourth at the 2011 worlds in Daegu, Korea, seventh at last summer's London Olympics. While track's elite make great money competing year-round, those are the only meets that register with casual fans.
McCorory's priorities mirror that pecking order. Olympics first, worlds second, everything else a distant third.
A Bethel High graduate, McCorory won NCAA titles indoors and outdoors in 2010. She struck Olympic gold in London as part of the U.S.'s 4x400 relay team. The next step is the individual medal stand at the worlds and/or Olympics.
"I definitely think I'm capable of the top of the podium," McCorory said of Moscow. "But the goal is the podium."
The competition figures to be stout, despite the absence of Americans Sonya Richards-Ross and Dee Dee Trotter, who won gold and bronze, respectively in London last summer — Richards-Ross failed to qualify for Moscow with a sixth-place finish at nationals, while Trotter ran the 200 instead and did not make the final.
But Olympic silver medalist Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain and 2011 world champion Amantle Montsho of Botswana, plus Hastings, will be in Moscow. Montsho owns the world's top three times this year, including a 49.87 three weeks ago in Rome. Hastings is next at 49.94, followed by McCorory at 50.01.
"In Moscow we're just shooting for one of the three individual medals," Pierce said. "If we think the gold is in reach, we're going to get it. But we're going to secure one of the three … and let the relay take care of itself."
McCorory has resumed training in Hampton and is scheduled to compete next month in Switzerland, Monaco and England before "shutting down" to prepare for Moscow.
For all her international travel, McCorory has never been to Russia, and Pierce believes the trip can produce a competitive first as well.
"Francena's in the best shape she's been in her life," he said. "She's motivated. She had a bad race the other day, but she still took second.
"This is the first year she's been fully mentally and physically fit. She's just motivated so much this year. She's ready to go."