EUGENE, Ore. – Dawn Harper-Nelson can’t contain herself, and her competitors can’t contain her either.
After winning her fourth national title and second straight in the 100-meter hurdles Saturday at the USATF Outdoor Championships, Harper-Nelson was screaming, dancing, clapping and even performed a few of her trademark cartwheels.
“I said, ‘Once again, I’ll probably have some crazy looking pictures, because I screamed a lot,’” said Harper-Nelson, the 2008 Olympic champion and 2012 silver medalist. “You put so much into it, your hard work, blood, sweat and tears into this. And when I crossed that line it was just a sigh of relief. It paid off again. You’re whipping younger ladies; you’re showing that you still have it. And I love what I do.”
Harper-Nelson surged after the 10th hurdle to edge Keni Harrison, the NCAA champion from the University of Kentucky, 12.55 seconds to 12.56. Sharika Nelvis, who scorched the Hayward Field track in the heats and semis, came in at 12.59 to grab the third spot at the world championships in Beijing ahead of Queen Harrison (12.60) and former world leader Jasmin Stowers (12.65).
Lolo Jones, the hurdles and bobsled Olympian, hit the third and fourth hurdles and dropped out of the race while American record holder Brianna Rollins scratched from the final because she already has a bye into worlds as the 2013 gold medalist.
Harper-Nelson, 31, has qualified for every major U.S. team since 2008, an impressive feat in one of the most loaded events in American track and field.
And no one has a better hairstyle. “I would have to say, ‘Absolutely not,’” Harper-Nelson said. “Fans asked me to wear this hairstyle again for nationals because I missed a couple of meets, so it’s back and I love it.”
Her coiffure is so high it would seem to cause wind resistance, but Harper-Nelson said that’s not the case.
“No, I try to keep it a little aerodynamic,” she said. “When I lean across that line it gives me, ‘oomph.’”
She needed that, because coming into the final on Saturday, Harper-Nelson was far from the favorite. Stowers, who has had a stellar Diamond League season, had run 12.40 or better on three occasions.
Then Nelvis posted the fastest time in the world this year of 12.34 seconds in the first round Friday (followed by Nelson at 12.48) and followed that up in Saturday’s semifinals with a 12.37.
“I said, ‘Hey, hey there, Missy. You want to slow it down a little bit?’” Harper-Nelson joked.
But when it counts, don’t count out Harper-Nelson, who has a world championships countdown clock on her personal website.
“I would like to say that’s my signature,” she said of her ability to come through in the clutch. “I go into the races confident because I know I put in the hard work. I’m a gamer.”
Harper-Nelson said the hurdlers may have been drained by the 90-degree heat, but she was also pleased with the race she put together.
“I believe that I’m the best one out there,” she said. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but it really comes to I believe I’m gifted. I’m getting my start together and now my ending is coming together as well, so as long as I do those things, I almost feel like I’m unstoppable — you know, in my own head.”
With reigning Olympic champion Sally Pearson injured and the U.S. dominating the world list in the 100-meter hurdles, people are already talking sweep. Harper-Nelson won the bronze medal at the 2011 worlds.
“I think we could go 1-2-3,” Harper-Nelson said. “I’m going to tell the ladies that. ‘Let’s go out there confident; we’ve done it here, we’ve shown that we can run world leads. Let’s cross that line representing USA proud.’”
She’s looking forward to returning to Beijing in August.
“I always say it’s my second home because that’s where my journey started,” said Harper-Nelson, who qualified for the 2008 Olympic team by .007 of a second “Beijing was where I got my first gold, my first team, first everything.”
Knowing Harper-Nelson, this trip to Beijing won’t be her last anything.
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.