Compared to the next three miles she has to travel, getting to South Korea was a breeze for Plymouth native Morgan Uceny.
Because the next three miles — to be run one at a time — are for all the marbles.
Uceny, a 2003 Plymouth High School graduate, begins her quest to win a gold medal in the women’s 1500-meter run Saturday when preliminary heats kick off the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in Daegu, Korea.
Is she nervous? You betcha.
But is she ready? Oh, yeah.
“I am confident in my own abilities to compete with anyone in the field,” says Uceny, who is making her first trip to a world championship meet.
“Obviously, it will be a big test because I have never made a major championship team before and there will be new challenges to face. I am a pretty level-headed person, though, so I think I can cope with any situation.”
Uceny, 26, is one of four athletes with northern Indiana ties who will compete in the world meet, which begins this evening.
Notre Dame grad Molly Huddle is entered in the women’s 5,000-meter run, and Elkhart resident Mark Hollis — an assistant coach at Elkhart Memorial — is competing in the men’s pole vault. Fort Wayne native Alissa McKaig will run the women’s marathon.
While the other three are more-or-less happy just to be there, Uceny finds herself directly in the spotlight. She is one of three favorites for the women’s 1500 title.
At this moment, Uceny is ranked No. 2 in the world. She won her first U.S. Outdoor championship in June, and she’s coming off a tremendous summer on the European track circuit, where she lost only one race.
To claim a gold medal in Korea, Uceny must get past two-time defending champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal from Bahrain — world-ranked No. 1 — and 2008 Olympic champ Nancy Langat of Kenya.
Track & Field News magazine — which calls itself the Bible of the sport — is picking Uceny to finish third, noting that Jamal and Langat have both run faster than the Plymouth native.
Jamal, in fact, has run considerably faster. Her personal best in the 1500 is 3:56.18. Uceny’s best is 4:01.51.
However, the magazine points out: “The race-savvy Uceny isn’t a sub-4:00, but definitely knows how to win.”
Uceny’s first trial heat is 10:40 a.m. Sunday. That will be the time in Korea. Daegu is 13 hours ahead of Plymouth, so for the folks back home, her first race is actually 9:40 p.m. Saturday.
Assuming she advances, her semifinal is scheduled 7:35 a.m. Tuesday (EDT). And if she makes the final, Uceny will race for the world championship at 7:55 a.m. Thursday.
Universal Sports won the rights to broadcast the World Championships in its entirety, so fans who want to watch on television, or on their computers, may have to pay a small fee.
NBC television, however, is broadcasting tape-delayed highlights at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 p.m. Sunday. Local affiliate WNDU will also broadcast highlights at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4.
“My goal is to get on the podium,” says Uceny. “I guess that could seem like a lofty goal since it is my first US team, but I have placed in the top three of all my recent races and I don’t see why I wouldn’t be able to do that again if I race to my abilities.”
“The USA Championships were definitely the highlight of the year thus far,” added Uceny. “We will see if that changes by the end of the season.”
Uceny was the 2002 Indiana high school state champ in the girls 800-meter run, and an All-American at Cornell University. For the past two years, she has lived and trained with a group of elite athletes in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
She said support from the folks back home has helped a lot in her preparations.
“I don’t get back (to Plymouth) very often, but when I do visit, I am surprised by how many people congratulate me on my running and know who I am,” said Uceny. “I think I can also attribute that to my mom, Brenda, who will tell anyone and everyone about my racing, whether they want to hear it or not!
“I love that my parents get excited about what I do.”
Who knows? In the next few days, they may have a lot more to be excited about.