Hailey captures gold in World Youth Championships

A number of emotions swarmed Nnenya Hailey as she stood on top of the podium, a gold medal hanging around her neck at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France, last month.

But a sense of surprise wasn’t one of them.

Hailey was confident about the race, telling her coach beforehand that she would win the girls’ 400-meter hurdles in a mere 57 seconds. She did just that, posting a personal best and world leading-youth time of 57.93 seconds.

“I know in any 400-meter race if I’m coming off the second curve in front of the competition, no one’s going to catch me,” said Hailey, of Sandy Springs.

Hailey, 17, qualified to run in France after winning the 400 hurdles in the World Youth Track & Field Trials in Myrtle Beach in June.

“You have to attack the hurdle and go in feeling that you know what to do,” Hailey said of her strategy.

Hailey grew up playing basketball, and in middle school, her coach took notice of her speed, encouraging her to run track. She embraced the individual focus of running, a stark contrast to basketball’s team-oriented play.

“In track, it’s all me, and if I’m not doing my job, then I fall,” Hailey said. “It’s not on anyone else.”

Hailey, a senior at Mouth Vernon Presbyterian when school starts Aug. 23, started running hurdles at age 14 before she moved to the 400 distance  a year ago. While she only ran the 400 hurdles in France, she runs several events, including relays, during the high school season.

Working with a private coach, she continues to focus on perfecting her technique.

“You have to be prepared to fall, you have to be prepared to slip or clip the hurdle,” she said. “You have to go in with a strong mental mind and just be ready for anything.”

Hailey knows that each step is an important one when she’s out on the track, and that the littlest mistake can knock a runner out of a top finish.

But that part of running continues to intrigue her.

“It’s easy in some aspects, but it’s a challenge and pushes you in other aspects,” Hailey said. “You have to be disciplined to be a runner.”

Now, Hailey’s sights are set on a new hurdle: winning gold at next summer’s IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona.