It felt like home for Kori Carter on Sunday at Sacramento State.
Carter grew up in Southern California but went to college at Stanford, so she had a large contingent of family, friends and even a few Cardinal football players on hand to cheer her on at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships.
She rewarded them and the rest of the sun-kissed crowd of 9,601 by running a 2014 world best of 53.84 seconds to win the women’s 400-meter hurdles championship. It was her first USA track national title.
“TheKoriMonster” as her Twitter handle reads, joined Georganne Moline of Phoenix, Ariz., and Tiffany Williams of Kissimmee, Fla., as competitors who entered the event ranked among the top 10 in the world this year.
Moline, the former Arizona star and a Pacific-12 Conference rival of Carter’s, finished second in 54.00 and Williams (54.84) took fourth behind Cassandra Tate (54.50) of Hammond, La.
The ebullient Carter hugged everyone in sight, including media members, and apologized for speaking so rapidly in her post-race interviews.
“Sorry, but I’m so excited,” said Carter, who turned pro last June. “It was awesome being able to do this so close to home. It was hot, which I love. The fans were great.”
Carter finished strong.
“I got a little shady over hurdles five, six and seven, but with eight to go, I just decided to go for it and got into Kori-Monster mode, gave it everything I had, and luckily today it was good enough,” she said.
Carter’s winning performance made up for a disappointing USA outdoors championship debut last June in Des Moines, Iowa, when an intestinal virus knocked her out the 400 hurdles semifinals.
Carter, 22, and Moline (24) and Tate (23), are part of the new wave of 400 hurdlers making a splash on the American and world stages. Champion competitors such as Williams, 31, and Lashinda Demus, 31 (fifth at 55.17) are trying to stay relevant against the new kids on the block.
Williams won USA national 400 hurdles outdoor titles in 2007 and 2008 and is making a comeback after having her second child in 2010. Demus, a 2011 World gold medalist and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, is a four-time USA national outdoors 400 hurdles titlist and the American record holder.
But lately it’s been Carter and Moline who have had the impressive head-to-head battles, carrying over from their days in the Pac-12.
Carter edged Moline for the Pac-12 title and NCAA 400 hurdles titles in 2013. Carter’s NCAA-winning time of 53.21 is No. 1 in collegiate-only competition history.
Moline, the 2012 Pac-12 champion, was the 400 hurdles runner-up in the 2012 Olympic Trials and went on the place fifth in London as the youngest competitor in the field.
“It’s always great to run against Georganne,” Carter said. “I know I’m going to run a good time, and she is going to run a good time. It’s a healthy rivalry. I know she is going to bring out the best in me.”
“It almost feels like college again running with her,” said Moline, who also finished second in the 400 hurdles at last year’s USA outdoor finals. “I really like it. She pushes me to a faster time, and that’s what I want.”
Carter was a nine-time All-American at Stanford where she broke every indoor and outdoor hurdles record. She left Stanford at the end of her junior year last spring to turn pro. But she used her Nike-sponsorship to finish up her undergraduate human biology degree a few weeks ago.
Though her professional career is still in its infancy, Carter already is thinking about the future. Last summer, she did an internship with a Menlo Park company that fits people with prosthetics.
“I hope to eventually get my masters in prosthetics and robotics,” Carter said. “I got some great hands-on experience with my internship, and it confirmed that this is what I want to do. I’m obsessive about the human body and how it performs.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.