Keni Harrison sees Olympic dreams drift away in tough final

Keni Harrison of Clayton won her semifinal heat in the pouring rain on Friday afternoon at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Keni Harrison of Clayton won her semifinal heat in the pouring rain on Friday afternoon at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. newsobserver.com

On the biggest stage she had ever been on, Clayton hurdler Kendra “Keni” Harrison met her toughest match. Harrison was close, but came up short by a mere .07 of a second of realizing her Olympic dream when she finished sixth Friday in the 100-meter hurdles final at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Running in Historic Hayward Field, the biggest venue in U.S. track and field, Harrison ran through heats (12.57) and Friday afternoon’s rain-soaked semifinals (12.91) looking strong, perhaps ready to make the Olympic team for Rio.

However, in the final, which one USA Track & Field official called “ the greatest 100-meter hurdles in Trials history,” the field of the world’s best hurdlers exploded out of the blocks and never let up. Harrison was among them, finishing in a great time of 12.62, but far behind winner Brianna Rollins, who won with a time of 12.34.

Kristi Castlin, in second (12.50), and Nia Ali, in third (12.55), also made the U.S. team.

Harrison clipped the final hurdle with her back leg, possibly slowing her push for the finish line just a bit. In arace that’s over in less than 13 seconds, those small bits make all the difference.

Rollins ran the second-fastest time ever in an Olympic Trials final, just missing the meet record of 12.33 set by Gail Devers at the 2000 trials.

Harrison entered the meet as the U.S. record holder (12.24), having set the record in May at the Nike Prefontaine Classic also held at Hayward Field, and just three hundredths of a second off the world record of 12.21 set in 1988 by Bulgarian Yordanka Donkova.

At a pre-trials press conference, Harrison seemed confident and ready. After her semifinal, she said: “I’m pretty confident going into the finals.”

Surrounded by a swarm of reporters and cameras in the media tent just minutes after the final race, Harrison seemed a little out of sorts.

Harrison offered no explanation for her sixth-place finish.

“I don’t know what happened; I’m just going to go watch films,” she said. “I feel great. I’m not injured. I’m going to get ready for the Diamond League meet in London (July 22-23). ... it happened so fast. Like I said, I’m going to have to watch film. It’s just really unfortunate that my season was doing so great right now.”

Harrison did take time to praise her competition: “I know these girls are going to be great in Rio, and make America proud.”

Harrison said it was “awesome” to have raced against the world’s best hurdlers: “They bring the best out of me. I can’t complain.”

Sensing the awkwardness of the situation at one point, reporters paused and Harrison said: “I’m lost for words right now,” and she walked away, seemingly leaving the disappointment of the 2016 Olympics behind and shifting her thoughts somewhere else. Possibly, Toyko: site of the 2020 Summer Games.

Keni Harrison on Facebook the day after the Finals

“I'm not going to let one bad day define who I am or what I’ve accomplished at 23. I'm trusting God’s plan and I know everything happens for a reason. In 2012, I didn't make it past the first round. Making the Olympic final was all a part of the process. I would like to say thank you to everyone who has been supporting me. You guys really made me feel a lot better. Regardless of the outcome you guys still support me. My season is not over, I will continue to compete until September. I'm going to train hard and go after that world record.”