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Hurdles-USout11.JPGHurdles at Tracktown, photo by PhotoRun.net


World Record Just A Tick Away For Kendra Harrison

If you look around, occasionally you can find countries that dominate a particular event. How about Kenya in the men's 3000 meter steeplechase? Forget about it! But the talent pool of that East African nation in the barrier event pales in comparison to the quality and depth that the American women bring to the 100 meter hurdles. Consider this: Currently, 5 American athletes - Kendra Harrison, Jasmin Stowers, Brianna Rollins, Sharika Nelvis, and Kristi Catlin - have combined to produce the top 11 marks on this year's outdoor world list in the women's high hurdle event. But wait, there's more. The red, white, and blue presently has 17 of the world's top 20 performances in the w100mH as well.

Currently at the pinnacle of this talented American hurdle group is former University of Kentucky hurdle specialist Kendra "Keni" Harrison. The 23 year old - who runs for adidas - has been on a tear all spring. No longer shackled to an academic schedule, the newly-minted professional cites the absence of college course work as providing her with both the additional training time and a singular focus as the key to her ascent to the next level. Harrison has already rung up three Diamond League high hurdle wins this season: in Eugene, Birmingham, and Stockholm - giving the young hurdler an 8-point DL lead over Rollins in the race for that sparkling trophy. And Harrison, it should be noted, has the top 4 high hurdle marks on this year's world list.

Harrison_Keni1224-Pre16.JPGKenni Harrison, AR, Pre Classic, photo by PhotoRun.net

But it's that world-leading 100mH performance that has the track & field world buzzing. At the Prefontaine Classic at the end of May, the capacity crowd was rendered speechless as Harrison exploded out of the blocks, executed with perfection, and blew away a world class field to capture the win. The margin of her victory - often only several hundredths of a second in many championship high hurdle races - was a whopping .29 as the former Wildcat dominated from the gun to the line. Her winning clocking of 12.24 took down the American record of 12.26 set in 2013 by Rollins. Harrison's mark also represents the #3 all-time performance and makes Keni the #2 all-time performer behind Yordanko Dankova. How enduring has Dankova's mark been? When the Bulgarian set the record, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the Dow was below 2200, and the domestic price of gasoline was under a dollar a gallon...

In an event where the USA excels, Harrison comes into Hayward as a strong - but not prohibitive - favorite. The talent of the U.S. women high hurdlers is too pervasive. And in the hurdles - where the margin for error is paper thin - anything can happen, and often does.

In Day Seven of these Trials, 35 aspiring high hurdlers competed in the opening round of the women's 100mH in hopes of advancing to Day Eight's semi-final and a shot to gain a lane in the final later that same day.

Keni Harrison [12.57] exhibited exquisite execution as she turned in a textbook performance to win heat #1, bettering defending OT champion Dawn Harper-Nelson [12.85] and former Ohio State star Christina Manning [12.89], also automatic qualifiers. "With so many top-ranked American girls, you've just got to do what you've got to do," stated Harrison confidently. "The race was clean. I didn't get out as hard as I would have liked. I'm just happy to get to the next round and I'm going to give it all I have." The former Kentucky star thinks about the WR, but wants to stay focused on a top 3 finish. "At Prefontaine, I didn't really have a lot of competition. Once I hit hurdle 5, it was basically just me. So I think if I have a good start, I could possibly get the world record. But I'm not really worried about that. I just want to come up in the top three. I think I am just a little rusty. As the rounds go, they're going to get quicker and quicker."

Heat #1 runner-up Dawn Harper-Nelson was upbeat about her performance. "First round, Bobby [Kersee] wanted me to go out there, loosen up, just get a feel for my third Trials," the crafty veteran explained. There's going to be some action. I'm happy with today." Does she anticipate progression through the rounds? "Definitely. That's pretty much what I do. Bobby always comes out and says, 'This time will get you through. But tomorrow all bets are off.'"

Kristi Castlin [12.68] - one of America's Big Five who collectively own the top 11 marks this outdoor season - copped the win in heat #2, followed by big Q qualifiers Jasmine Camacho-Quinn [12.82] and Jackie Coward [12.91].

In heat #3, Nia Ali [12.68] - who captured the world indoor 60mH title in Portland in March - led early, propelled by a great start. But young Jasmin Stowers [12.65] finished strong to take the win. Teneya Jones [13.09] got up for 3rd. "I just really wanted to make sure I had a clean race more than anything. I've been having a little trouble with the first half of my race, ironically," runner-up Ali shared. "I just wanted to execute my start and keep my composure throughout the whole race, not panic, and get a feel of the field." The fast-closing winner was happy, but also knew some fine tuning is in order. "My finish is always the best. I have to work on my beginning. That is something that I'm continually building on," noted Stowers. "I'm fast at the end, so if I can execute my start, I'll be good for the finals."

Queen Harrison [12.71] won heat #4 followed Sharika Nelvis [12.79] and Sasha Wallace [13.16] who also advanced automatically. When Harrison was reminded in the mixed zone that there is another Harrison in the hurdle field, she had a quick reply. "There's only one Queen," she retorted. And the Queen performed well. "It was really windy today. We actually don't like wind at our backs as hurdlers. It was pushing me up on the hurdles," the Queen explained. "I am primed; I'm ready to go; I'm really fast. I just have to make that adjustment so I won't crash up on the hurdles." Harrison likes flying under the radar at these Trials. "This year it's kinda cool being in the spotlight. But I've always loved being the underdog. I've always said there are really great hurdlers in America; they have medals; they have American records; and everyone likes to focus on them." And after a slight pause she added, "I wouldn't mind sliding right in there and winning tomorrow when nobody's expecting me to." She was quite candid on what it's going to take to make this team. "My best, honestly - a healthy Queen and one who is confident in her race will win and be on that Olympic team. Last year I was devastated - I was 4th by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin. So this year I'm singing a different tune when I get back here to the mixed zone." It's good to be the Queen.

But 2013 world champion Rollins [12.56] closed the opening round by looking very smooth and running away from her competitors in heat #5 to post the fastest time of the day. Well gapped, Raven Clay [13.01] and Jade Barber [13.11] also advanced with big Q's.

If the hurdle veterans harbor any concerns about the young whipper-snappers who have invaded their event, they're keeping those notions to themselves. "I think it's awesome," exclaimed Harper-Nelson with respect to the youth movement in the women's hurdles. "It's amazing. I am just blessed to be a part of it, you know what I mean? Still being out there fighting, running great times, and showing that I'm still capable." Ali echoed those sentiments. "I think it's thrilling. I think all the athletes know that this is the hardest team to make. If you can make this team, you for sure can get on that podium once you get there," stated the world indoor 60 meter hurdle champion.

There is universal awe among young and old - or should I say "emerging" and "seasoned" - hurdlers, not only about how hard it will be to make the hurdle final, but also about the quality of the field which will be composed of eight scrappy athletes who may have to PR to make the w100mH final which will close Day Eight. "I love all the excitement around it," Ali admitted. "I love how everyone is bringing each other up. And you just never know. Any of these ladies could be top three. I love that." Stowers was perhaps even more direct. "With these ladies, you're going to have to PR to make the team. That's something in the back of my head to think about. But right now I'm just focusing on each round."

That quality of tomorrow's 100 meter hurdle final is likely to compare quite favorably with the high hurdle final in Rio. Don't miss it.

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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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