SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Keni Harrison’s scars are healing.
The one on her left hand is still lumpy, a result of breaking a metacarpal bone in early May when she struck a hurdle while warming up for a Diamond League meet.
“It’s ready to go,” she said, holding up her hand.
And then there’s the scar you can’t see, the one from not making the 2016 Olympic team in the 100-meter hurdles despite being the world leader. Team USA swept the medals at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 without Harrison, who went on to break the world record.
She found even greater healing powers in winning her first outdoor national championship against a star-studded field Saturday.
“It lets me know that I can come to these championships and get the job done,” said Harrison.
Her winning time at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships was 12.60 seconds, followed by Olympic silver medalist Nia Ali with a season-best 12.68, then Christina Manning at 12.70. Dawn Harper-Nelson, the 2008 gold medalist and 2012 silver medalist, was fourth at 12.78, and Kristi Castlin, the Olympic bronze medalist, was sixth in 12.91 while Jasmin Stowers, who had the best time of the meet in the semis at 12.47 seconds, faltered to 12.94 and eighth place.
The national championships are part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, and are being televised on NBC platforms.
An ecstatic Harper-Nelson will be part of a four-member contingent at the 2017 IAAF World Championships thanks to Harrison.
As the reigning Diamond League champion, Harrison had a wild card to worlds and simply had to compete in one round to advance. However, she wanted to get some racing in, and who better to compete against than many of the top hurdlers in the world?
“To come from breaking a hand to coming out here and winning means everything,” said Harrison, who went on to win the Diamond League race in Doha, Qatar, after breaking her hand, but her season was curtailed. “Now my confidence is where it needs to be.”
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She was in command of the race from the start. “My coach said, ‘You’ve got to go out there and get it. They’re not going to give it to you,’” said Harrison, who was sixth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field. “So I’m just happy I did that.’”
The meet was also redemption for Ali, who had not run well earlier this season. She set two season bests in the meet, including 12.52 in the semis.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Ali said. “My faith is so strong and it’s always right on time, so I never panicked and I trusted in my coaches and it just really worked out for me. So I’m hoping to keep the momentum going all the way through worlds in London.”
Team USA swept the 100-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, with Brianna Rollins taking the gold, followed by Ali and Castlin.
Rollins is currently serving a suspension after missing doping tests.
Ali said a 1-2-3-4 sweep in London “would be incredible. I was just telling Keni I was so happy that she ran all the rounds. I can respect that. She hasn’t had that many races, so to come out here and run so strong through all three rounds goes to show how strong of a team we’re sending. I’m just happy that I have a shot of being a part of something like that.”
Manning, who has medaled at the World University Games, was determined to get on her first world team.
“At the line, I was like, ‘I am not letting up whatsoever,’” she said. “’I am not giving a spot up.’ … I was pushing the whole time. It was like a blur. I just remember getting out, running across the line and looking up and seeing my name.”
For Harper-Nelson, dejection at placing fourth quickly turned to elation.
“Right after the race, I totally forgot Keni was going,” she said. “I was walking off like, ‘I missed it by one spot,’ and Nia said, “Dawn, where are you going?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, shut up! I’m going to London.’ I’m in shock.’”
She said it will take her a while to process it.
“There’s going to be a couple of screams throughout the night,” she said. “I’m going to scare my husband to death.”
Harper-Nelson said she was asked last year if qualifying for the world team would make up for missing the 2016 Olympic squad.
“Of course, I’m like ‘No.’ But in this moment, ‘Yes! Absolutely! I cannot wait to wear all blue.’”
While she said Harrison is the woman to beat, “the problem with the hurdles is we’re all really fast girls. That was a good race. You can never say one person, because then you have 10 hurdles to fight with. The U.S. is obviously taking a strong team and," Harper broke into song, “I cannot believe I’m one of them.”
And so is Harrison, who still bears one more scar, this one from her first world championships two years ago. In Beijing, she false-started in the semifinals and was disqualified.
“Everyone in this event is really strong,” Harrison said. “These girls we’re all going to represent and try to get that sweep like we did last year.”
And this time she can be part of it.