Phyllis Francis, who started as a distance runner, is now a 400-meter world champion.
The graduate of Catherine McAuley High School in Brooklyn, who was a gold medalist in the women’s 1,600-meter relay at the 2016 Olympics, captured the 400-meter title and was part of Team USA’s winning 1,600-meter relay at the International Association of Athletics Federation’s World Championships in London earlier this month.
The Queens native finished strong over the final 100 meters to pass competitors and clock a personal-best time of 49.92 seconds in the 400-meter championship race. She was the only competitor to run the final in less than 50 seconds on a wet track, and her time was the fourth-best outdoor time in the world this year as of Aug. 24.
Ms. Francis, 25, also joined Quanera Hayes, Allyson Felix and Shakima Wimbley in winning the 1,600-meter relay in the world’s best time for 2017 of 3 minutes, 19.02 seconds.
“It’s been very exciting, to say the least,” Ms. Francis told CNY via email from Europe, where she is competing in meets through Labor Day weekend.
“I’m very proud of my accomplishments so far. I look forward to more to come!”
Ms. Francis was a member of Team USA’s winning 1,600-meter relay at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with Courtney Okolo, Natasha Hastings and Ms. Felix, running in 3:19.06, the best mark last year. Ms. Francis, who now lives in College Station, Texas, placed fifth in the 400.
Ms. Francis’ interest in running was sparked by following her sister Claudia, who was later a national champion and All-American at the University of Florida, to track practice at a park in Queens. Phyllis joined her sister and started as a cross-country runner. She explained how she turned her focus to the 400 at the University of Oregon.
“It all started my first year at college at the University of Oregon,’’ she said. “I started running the (1,600-meter relay), and my coach saw that I had some potential. So he made a deal with me and said, ‘If you can split a 54 on the relay leg, I will train you for the 400.’ I ran it and the rest was history.’’
Ms. Francis won three consecutive Pac-12 championships and a national championship in the 400 with Oregon. She continued her climb on the national and world stages, winning the U.S. Indoor Championship in the 300-meter run earlier this year and now the outdoor world title in the 400.
She credited Catherine McAuley, a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Mercy, which has since closed, for preparing her for life after high school.
“Catherine McAuley helped me into being the woman I am today, by making sure I stayed focused with my school work and track,’’ she said. “I liked how close and involved the teachers were with the students. They made sure they prepared you for the world and what it gives you.’’
Ms. Francis is setting her sights on competing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and is preparing for life after track and field.
“I will be working and perfecting my craft over the next two years. The Olympics will always be a goal for every track and field athlete. So yes, my hope is to run there in 2020,” she said.
“When I finally decide to hang up my spikes and end my career, I will probably own my own business…Not sure what yet, but it’s something I think about all the time.’’