When Kori Carter wanted to improve her speed, she left her native California for the land of horse racing.
Carter, now 25, grew up in Claremont, California, which is near Los Angeles, and then went to college at Stanford, ending her career there in 2013 with an NCAA title and collegiate record in the 400-meter hurdles.
That led to a budding pro career in which she won the U.S. title for the 400-meter hurdles in 2014 and was the runner-up in 2015. Later in 2015, she made her first world championships, reaching the semifinals.
But when she placed fourth in the event at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field, missing a Rio berth by one spot, she decided she needed a change.
“After the trials I was pretty low,” Carter said. “I was trying to figure out what to do so I wasn’t in the same situation. So I went back to my college coach.”
Edrick Floréal competed in two Olympic Games as a jumper for Canada and later coached Carter at Stanford. Prior to Carter’s breakout 2013 season, Floréal moved east to take on the head coaching job at Kentucky.
Following her trials disappointment, Carter decided to follow him to Lexington.
“It was the biggest change in trajectory of my post-collegiate career,” said Carter, who left her family and comfort zone. “I’d never lived outside of California, so that was a big change. At least they let me bring my dog.”
At least temporarily. When training for the 2017 got into full swing, she had to take her “best friend” Kobu, an Alaskan Klee Kai, back to California.
In Lexington, Carter served as a volunteer assistant coach for the Wildcats while working to take her technical and physical abilities to the next level.
Floréal challenged her in various ways. One was coming to practice mentally prepared every day. They did lots of stride and speed work. She was challenged to train at a race pace. Lastly, she changed her diet.
“I made a lot of sacrifices. I didn’t eat bread, pasta or white flour,” said Carter, who shed 10 pounds in the process. “It was more about discipline. Sticking to my diet shows how committed I was to the journey I’m on.”
Carter’s plan paid off.
In June, she finished third in the U.S. championships. Then, competing last month at the IAAF World Championships in London, Carter had her international breakout when she won the 400-meter hurdles from the outside lane. Her time of 53.07 seconds was nearly half a second faster than that of U.S. teammate Dalilah Muhammad, who won the Olympic gold medal last year in Rio and earned silver at worlds.
In track events, the outside lane is suboptimal, because due to the stagger you can’t see your opponents for much of the race while everyone else can chase you down.
The psychological challenge didn’t bother Carter, she was.
“I was confident going into the final,” Carter said. “I was just glad to have a lane.”
The next step, Carter said, is keeping it up.
After falling just short for the Rio Games, she believes she has a roadmap for making sure that never happens again.
Her training pattern will adjust next year as she’ll focus solely on short hurdles in an off year for worlds and the midpoint of this Olympic quad. Her next goals are the top of the biggest world stages, including the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“Step one is next year and it’s an off year, so I’m excited about that,” Carter said. “After that I want to make sure we do well next worlds (in 2019). I have these next three years to prepare me for Tokyo.”
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.