SACRAMENTO — Francena McCorory had to wait for the replay to see the best race of her life. The U.S. women’s 400-meter champion has a tendency to run with her eyes closed.
Not that it mattered much.
McCorory won Saturday in the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships, finishing in 49.48 seconds to edge Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross.
McCorory had her best career time and the fastest in the world this year. She did it despite running three-quarters of the race with her eyes closed, something the sprinter has done since she first took up running as a 12-year-old.
That McCorory somehow stays in her lane without bumping into other runners was just as impressive as her winning time.
“I know it’s weird because I have to go around an oval and turn left, but I really don’t feel anyone,” McCorory said. “I’ve run so many 400s I can feel the track. At 300 yards, I was like, ‘Yes, I’m almost home.’ That’s the only time I opened my eyes.”
It’s McCorory’s first U.S. title after three runner-up finishes. She also won the 400 at the U.S. Indoor Championships in February.
The 25-year-old beat a field that included Richards-Ross, reigning outdoor champion Natasha Hastings and Dee Dee Trotter, the 2012 bronze medalist.
“It’s always great running against a great field because you know the times are going to be good,” McCorory said. “Yesterday I had a glitch because I didn’t get out as hard. That was my main focus for today.”
Richards-Ross, who beat McCorory by two-tenths of a second in the semifinals, finished in 49.66. Richards-Ross joined McCorory as the only two female runners to break the 50-second mark this year despite having practiced for just three months following toe surgery.
“I thought I had done enough but Fran ran a phenomenal race,” Richards-Ross said. “I’m happy for her but next year it’s going to be a different story.”
Hastings was third in the 400 while Trotter was fifth.
The finish in the women’s 100 hurdles was even closer.
Dawn Harper-Nelson beat Queen Harrison by a hundredth of a second, leaning at the tape to win her third U.S. title.
“I think you can count on when it comes to the lean, Dawn’s probably got it,” said Harper-Nelson, who finished in 12.55. “I was very happy with my lean today.”
Harper-Nelson, the silver medalist at the 2012 Olympics, came out of the blocks strong and was leading when she faltered slightly going over the fourth, fifth and sixth hurdles.
She recovered just as Harrison was pulling close over the final 20 meters.
“I felt myself float over like three of (the hurdles) and I was like, ‘You’re giving them room,’” Harper-Nelson said. “I knew I had to come off 10 and really run for my life.”
Gil Roberts went wire-to-wire to win the men’s 400 in 44.53. He had hoped to be paired against LaShawn Merritt, who holds the fastest time in the world this year, but Merritt pulled out of the meet after winning his heat on Thursday.
“I was hoping I was going to get to race him today but it was another great seven I was racing against,” Roberts said. “You can only worry about the task at hand. When I get to LaShawn, I’ll get to LaShawn. We’ll hook up then.”
Emma Coburn won the women’s 3,000 steeplechase in 9:19.72, a meet record and the third-fastest time ever by an American.
“With 3 1/2 laps to go I kind of took off and when I saw my time at the end I was really surprised,” Coburn said. “I’m not great in the heat. It shows that I’m in better shape.”
Sharon Day-Monroe had 6,470 points to win the heptathlon. American record-holder Maria Michta won her fifth consecutive U.S. title in the women’s 20-kilometer racewalk, finishing in 1:35:54.37.
Other winners included Erik Kynard in the men’s high jump at 7-8 1/2, Leo Manzano in the 1,500 at 3:38.62, Brittney Reese in the women’s long jump at 22-8 1/2, and Amanda Bingson in women’s hammer at 246-4.