The Olympic opening ceremony always has been a fixture on Phyllis Francis’ family TV set in Laurelton, Queens, where she would watch in complete awe with father Andrew.
Now, the 24-year-old Francis will be a part of the worldwide spectacular, running the 400-meter individual and 4x400 relay for Team USA in her first Olympic Games in Rio next month.
“It is going to be a full-circle moment,” Francis said. “My father would sit down and say, ‘Hey, Phyllis, look. One day, you’re going to be on there.’ Now, I’m going to be there. I’m really excited about that.”
Growing up in the five boroughs has influenced Francis greatly throughout her journey. She was a graduate and cross-country star at the now-shuttered Catherine McAuley High School in East Flatbush, and the team trained in Prospect Park.
“New York City taught me that everybody is always going to fall down, It’s how you get back up [that matters],” said Francis, who trains at Texas A&M in College Station. “We as New Yorkers always know that, no matter what happens, you get back up and you keep going and pushing for that goal.”
Francis experienced hurdles while working toward her dream. Four years ago, she did not advance past the semifinal round at the U.S. Olympic Trials. This time around, she breezed through the 400-meter preliminaries but said she lacked aggressiveness through the first 200 meters of a subpar semifinal performance on July 3. She placed fourth with a time of 50.84 — 0.56 seconds off the pace.
Her coach, Vince Anderson, encouraged her to “move on” from the disappointment before the finals, reminding her what is on the other side of the finish line — a trip to Rio. The former University of Oregon standout did just that. The numbers “49.94” appeared on the scoreboard, a personal record that earned her silver and a spot on the Olympic team.
“It did not hit me,” Francis said. “... It was a pretty cool moment. [It was] weird at first, but when it sunk in, it was amazing.”
As the Games inch closer, the cool and collected Francis added she is training with her usual routine, while determined to reach her next goal of representing the country to the best of her ability, including bringing home medals.
“I’m really calm, I’m not thinking about it too much,” she said.