Dawn Harper (center) races against Queen Harrison (left) and Jasmin Stowers in the women's 100-meter hurdles final at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hornet Stadium on June 28, 2014 in Sacramento, California.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Dawn Harper-Nelson had to be the “Queen of Lean” to win the 100-meter hurdles at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Two weeks after Queen Harrison edged her by one-hundredth of a second at the Diamond League meet in New York, Harper-Nelson turned the tables Saturday to win her third U.S. outdoor title.
She crossed the finish line at Hornet Stadium in 12.55 seconds to hold off Harrison, who was a smidgen behind at 12.56. Lolo Jones, returning to the U.S. national podium following her 2014 Olympic bobsled adventure, was third in 12.65.
“I knew I had it,” Harper-Nelson said. “That’s why I did my cartwheel.”
Harper-Nelson felt she deserved a celebratory cartwheel – or two. The 2008 Olympic champion and 2012 silver medalist defeated a loaded field. Brianna Rollins, the American record holder who has the fastest time in the world this year of 12.53 seconds, placed fifth (12.81) and Nia Ali, the world indoor champ coming off a hamstring tear, was eighth (13.16).
The top five performers in the world this year are from Team USA. After Rollins, Harper-Nelson and Harrison are tied at 12.54 seconds, then Jones comes in at 12.55 and Kristi Castlin, who did not compete in Sacramento, has run 12.58. Sally Pearson of Australia, the Olympic champion, is next at 12.59.
“Sometimes you don’t have a perfect 10 hurdles, but if you can put it together as much as you can, that’s what I did today,” Harper-Nelson said.
She burst out of the blocks well enough to satisfy her coach, Bobby Kersee, but then felt herself float over the fourth, fifth and sixth hurdles.
“Making those mistakes, I’m like, ‘You’re messing up your time and you’re giving them hope,’” Harper-Nelson said.
To her dismay, she could see Harrison’s foot coming over the hurdles. “So I knew I had to come off (the 10th hurdle) and really run for my life,” Harper-Nelson said. “But it was good. I loved the drama for the fans and then to still come out on top, I think they really enjoyed it.”
Harrison is now a four-time runner-up at the U.S. outdoor championships, twice in the 400-meter hurdles (2008 and 2011) and twice in the 100-meter hurdles (2013 and Saturday).
“I always know it’s going to come down to the end with Dawn,” Harrison said. “Dawn is a closer, the same way that I am. In New York, I was able to nip her out, so today, she was able to nip me out. It’s that competitiveness that keeps the hurdles so fun.”
Harrison couldn’t wait to get out of the blocks with the temperature in the 90s. “The track was really hot and my fingertips were kind of burning,” she said, “so I was ready to go.
“I thought I executed my race really, really well. I raced the best that I could and was this close to being victorious.”
Harrison plans to return to the 400 hurdles after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “My goal is to be one of the first hurdlers to ever win a medal in both hurdles,” she said. “Instead of doing them at the same time, I decided, ‘OK, I’m going to focus on the 100 hurdles and my speed, and then I’ll switch gears back to the 400 hurdles.’ The 400 hurdles has not seen the last of me.”
Jones was disappointed she didn’t lower her time from the 12.55 she ran in the semis earlier Saturday. She said her left hamstring started bothering her and was tight for the final.
“I went from not getting races to getting a race every week (and then) to three races in 24 hours,” Jones said, “so my body is like, ‘What is going on and where is the bobsled?’ I was looking for that at hurdle 5. Where is the bobsled so I can stop running?”
After placing 11th at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Jones trimmed her weight from 160 to about 140.
What did she have to give up in her diet? “Everything. I’m eating air,” she said, then admitted her weakness when it comes to calories: “Double bacon cheeseburgers. I was having those every other day with fries. So now I can only have a cheeseburger after a track race - maybe without the bun.”
Because other hurdlers started their seasons earlier than Jones did, she had a hard time getting into meets.
On the track, she had to regain her hurdling rhythm.
“There would be moments where I thought I was good and bobsled helped, then there were times where I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it absolutely hurt me,’” Jones said. “But overall, I think it is the perfect yin-yang relationship because it makes me powerful.”
Jones said the U.S. bobsled team is recruiting her to come back again in the fall. “I told them to take it year by year,” she said. “It’s been a long two years and I can’t wait till the end of the season so I can take a proper month off and recover my body.”
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.