How to Turn Failure Into Success With 400M Hurdles World Champion Kori Carter

Kori Carter is an American track and field athlete who became the world champion in the 400 meters hurdles event in 2017. We had the chance to chat with Kori after her training. In our conversation, she shares her big dreams, her relentless consistency, and how she used failure to bounce back and become a world champion a year later. We also discussed her partnership with Jumpman, Michael Jordan’s brand, and the privilege as an athlete to be part of this family.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Kori Carter: I have a couple. One of them is: Pray as though everything depended on God. Act though everything depended on you. That is one thing that I try to live by, I have a tattoo on my wrist. That says Pray on one side and Work on the other side.

The other one is “everything is my fault”. Which is to take ownership of everything in your life. Because if everything is your fault, you have the power to fix it.

What do you think is your best quality?

My best quality and maybe my worst quality is that I am either 100% into something or not at all. I have a hard time doing 50%. This can be a really good thing to be “all in” but it can also be a bad thing. [laughs] When I decide to do something, I am very passionate and dedicated to it.

What is your favorite food?

It depends on the day. I eat pretty much everything. But I guess my go-to since I was little has always been In-N-Out. I usually get a 3 by 3 burger, animal fries, and a shake. But I can’t really have that right now! [laughs]

You didn’t make the Olympic team in 2016. How did you bounce back from this disappointment?

Me not making the Olympic team at the moment was the worst thing ever. Looking back on it was probably the best thing for me. Just because if forced me to take a real hard look at myself and figured what was going wrong. My only goal that year was to make the team. It wasn’t to win the Olympic Games, it was just to make the team, and I would have probably been happy with that. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone. I was talking to my agent and I didn’t know what I had to do in this situation.

Coach Flo, who was my old coach called me asked me the hard questions that I needed to ask myself. Basically, I made a decision on a Wednesday, and on Friday I had two suitcases and my dog on an airplane and I flew from California out to Kentucky. And a year later after not making the Olympic team, I was world champion.

If I had made the Olympic team, I wouldn’t have made that move. Simply because I was very comfortable in Calfornia, surrounded by my friends and my family. That forced me to go to a place where all I had was the work. It paid off because I don’t think I would have been a world champion if I hadn’t made that hard decision. But in the meantime, I wouldn’t have made that hard decision if I had joined the Olympic team a year earlier.

You share positive quotes on Instagram. How important is it to stay positive for an athlete?

It is very important. I am a very solution-oriented person, I don’t like to talk about problems, I prefer to talk about solutions. I have always been a positive person and I think that is why it’s helped me to be a successful athlete. Because you’re going to encounter a lot of disappointments and there’s a lot of hardships. Like, every day at practice, my coach is trying to kill me [laughs]. So you have to figure out how to get up every day and give it your best. Obviously there are times when you’re sore, you’re tired, or it’s burning.

Goals are really big for me. When I have a hard practice, I always embrace it and remember this is what I am working for and the reasons why I am doing it. And everything my coach is putting me through is so that we can accomplish my goals. And it makes the process easier. Like for me, it’s not what I have to do, it’s what I get to do.

What is your biggest dream?

Olympic gold and world record. I want to have my name in History books. I have dedicated my life to the 400m hurdles. So I don’t want to be only the best I can be, I want to be the best. Period. [smiles]

You are a world champion. Can you describe and share what was in your mind right before the race and during this final sprint? 

Sure! I really got into the zone before and even went viral for my start because I was just so focused. Which is funny because everyone who knows me knows I’m a hugger. I love to hug and I do hug my coach every day at practice and he hates it. Also, I remember walking to the call room right before my race and my coach goes to hug me but I had already transformed to the Kory Monster, which is my alter ego. At the time, I remember pushing him away and tell him: “I’ll hug you when I’m a world champion.” I was just kind of like, who am I right now? So laser focus.

I was in lane nine, which is probably the worst lane because you can’t see anyone. And I’m known as someone who likes to chase. That was the worst thing for me. I even remember telling myself that I had to win because my coach was going to be pissed if I was serving this as an excuse. In a way, I knew that I wasn’t going to see anyone when I was running until I got to the end of the race. So I just was like, you have to get out like a bat out of hell and like just really go after it.

Even with the worst lane, I had this strange feeling. I was so confident after my second round, I just felt everything was snapping. Knowing I am a good finisher, I saw Dalilah (Muhammad) out of the corner of my eye. She was close to me. At this moment, I just felt like I wasn’t going to give it up. Because if you let her go, she’s gone! You know, I just felt I can get her. And I just dug with everything I had. Being the first to cross the final line was the most amazing feeling!

If I believe in me, and my coach believes in me, I am good! I don’t need anyone else.

What is your own definition of success?

I think my definition of success is the process and the result. If you win, obviously, everyone is going to see your success. I think there are people who are able to pull out wins without giving 100 percent of the work. Sometimes you can get lucky and you happen to pull out a win. But you know, deep down, there was more you can do.

So I feel success for me is not only making it happen in those big moments. It is also making it happen in the small moments, being accountable, and doing everything you can to make those dreams possible. And if at that moment it doesn’t happen but I know I did everything in my power to be successful. I think that for me, successes like making sure that I cover my bases in practice, in the recovery, and in my diet. To do all the little things so that I’m prepared to make it happen when it comes to the big things.

What is usually your morning routine?

It depends on the day. If it’s Monday, Wednesday or Friday, that means I don’t have practice until the afternoon. So I usually get up, have breakfast, walk my dog, and depending on how my body feels, I’ll either stretch or sometimes I’ll scrape myself out. I kind of just make sure my body’s working so I can perform at practice.

If it’s Tuesday or Thursday we have a 6:00 a.m weight training. So, I’m used to waking up, making a quick breakfast, heading to practice, and then getting it in at the gym in the weight room. So that’s my morning. It’s super simple. Usually, I like to watch some reality TV shows in the morning and try not to do a lot in the morning because I know my coach is going to kill me. So I’ve got to conserve my energy. [laughs]

You are a Jumpman athlete. What does this collaboration bring you? Do you get advice directly from Michael Jordan? 

Yeah, I’ve met Michael a couple of times. We’ve had some team retreats with all the athletes, and I’ve been able to, like, just be in the room with him and feel his energy, which is amazing. Even though I’ve watched documentaries and read books about him. But to actually be in person with him and to be able to ask any questions! Also, the biggest thing I’ve ever gotten from him is just actually experiencing his competitiveness.

I think is amazing. So that’s been such a blessing to be able to, you know, be in a room with one of the greatest, if not the greatest athlete that has ever walked this planet. I just feel like I love being part of the Jordan family. To me, it’s not a brand, it’s a family.

And then not only experience that with MJ, but also, get the chance to hang out with the basketball guys or the football guys. They’re all just such great people. We all kind of have that Jordan mentality where we just are killers, so. Yeah. It’s been such a great honor to be part of that family.

We saw your TikTok video with your sneakers. How many pairs of Jordans do you have?

I have no idea! Probably 300 to 400 pairs. This is a problem. [laughs] Growing up, I wasn’t really into fashion. I got really excited to go shopping for any spikes and new cleats depending on what season it was. But I never really wore sneakers as fashion accessories. I wasn’t a huge sneakers fan but being exposed to it through this partnership, I love it now! [laughs]

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

When I was in middle school, I went to get throws and jumps camp with Michael Powell. He’s the reigning long jump world record holder. At the time, I thought I was going to be a 100 meters and a 400 meters hurdler. He simply told me to “let your event find you”.

Letting my gifts and my abilities evolve and not holding onto who I am as a person. I realized I definitely cannot compete in multiple categories at the highest level. I think just being open was really important. And I always remember him telling us these words and how he started off as a high jumper and then became the best long jumper ever.

What advice would you give to young athletes out there who want to become pro and make a career?

Just be ready to do the work. I think. Well, I don’t think a lot of young athletes don’t realize the amount of work that goes into being a professional athlete. It’s not like a regular job. It’s a lifestyle because, you know, most people go to work. And if I had to come home and they can shut their brain off work you to practice and like your practices aren’t you know, you don’t have an eight-hour workday.

But, you know, everything that we do, whether it’s sleep, recovery, how we eat, that all affects our performance. It’s a 24/7 job because everything you do affects your performance. Some people think they can just show up at practice, do a couple of things, and then go home and assume they are going to be successful. But it’s like the little things to do outside of that really contributes to your success.

Who interview next?

You should interview Ajeé Wilson, who is the American record holder in the 800 meters, both indoor and outdoor. She is also my best friend and I am her biggest fan!

Save as a photo and add it to your takeaways album.

If you liked Kori Carter’s story, our redaction suggests you: Losing is Inevitable but Defeat is Optional With Olympic Champion Tianna Bartoletta [/mepr-show]


Romain Wawrzyniak is our Editor-in-Chief. His enthusiasm and kindness make his guests feel comfortable creating intimate conversations and priceless insights.

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