By Joseph Staszewski
Claudia Francis has turned her attention overseas.
The junior won both an indoor and outdoor national title in the 800 meters running with Team Evolution, her club squad, this season. She severed ties earlier in the year with her school team at Cardozo, after a difference with the Judges’ coaching staff. It hasn’t stopped Francis from continuing to be one of the nation’s best middle distance runners. Her next test is to compete against the best in the world at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in August.
“It’s a great feeling, having the feeling that I am training hard and doing the best I can and having the fact that I won two titles as well,” Francis said. “I just wanted to see where I was at for the Youth Olympics. I want to see how my body is to see if I can kick up the next training.”
She won the 800 at the New Balance Outdoor nationals with a time of 2:07.30 in Greensboro, N.C., in late June. Francis cleared well away from the field over the final 200 meters to clock the fastest time in the state and third best in the country this season. She took home the Nike indoor national title with a mark of 2:08.06 back in March. Francis will run the 1000 in Singapore. She competed in the 800 at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Italy last summer.
“We are doing more mileage,” said Andrew Francis, her father and coach with Team Evolution. “I think she has the speed, so basically we are moving up the strength to handle whatever pace [is set]. When you go running internationally, it’s a whole different level then it is national.”
It has also been a very different year for Claudia.
She left the Cardozo team at the end of the cross country season because of conflict in ideologies with the coaching staff over training, scheduling and competing internationally, according to Andrew Francis. Claudia trains twice a week during the school year with Team Evolution and when school is out she will have a light workout in the morning and a full one later in the day.
For her, the perks have been training with high level college and high school athletes on a regular basis and focusing more on the distances and races she wants to run. The number of times she has competed has gone down significantly because unattached runners are not allowed to compete in many local scholastic meets, but it hasn’t bothered her.
“I miss my teammates, but I see them in school, so it is not like I never get a chance to see them,” she said.
Francis sees competing less as a way to ease the wear and tear on her body and limit her chance of injury. She has also been able to still compete in many high level races such as the Gibson Relays in Jamaica, Caribbean Scholastic Invitational in Puerto Rico and the Reebok Boston Indoor Games. It’s kept her name among the best in the nation.
“As long as she is hitting the numbers and she is one of the top athletes in the nation they definitely reach out to you and invite you to the elite meets,” Andrew Francis said.
While Claudia has gone her own route, Cardozo has continued to go about its business with an infusion of youth. The Judges again won the PSAL indoor and outdoor city title. Its 4×400 relay won both and indoor and outdoor national title. Francis competed on the team last year when it won indoors, but it did not compete at the outdoor nationals.
“Do I miss Claudia on the team? Frankly speaking, no,” Cardozo Coach Gail Emmanuel said. “Do I wish her all the best? Yes. I cannot say that the team suffered without her. We continue to progress. It didn’t really affect the team at all.”
Her leaving also hasn’t stopped some of the country’s top track and field programs from lining up to recruit her. Florida State, Texas, Texas A&M and Oregon, where her sister, Phyllis, will compete next year, are among the many who have contacted her. Francis said by September she will really be able to get into the thick of the recruiting process. Her sole focus until then is Singapore and the 1000 meters. She ran 2:54.15 at the trials in April and is looking to come in around 2:35.00 this time around.
“On an international level, it is more competitive,” she said. “The athletes who compete from different countries are more focused and more serious.”