DES MOINES, Iowa – As Keni Harrison has continued to win, her confidence has continued to build. And as her confidence has continued to build, the wins have continued to come.
Harrison’s latest victory came Saturday afternoon at the 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
She ran 12.46 seconds in the women’s 100-meter hurdles final for her third consecutive U.S. title in the event and her fastest winning time of the three.
“It means a lot. It means I have what it takes and I can come out here and get the job done,” Harrison said of her streak. “It means the world.”
Harrison remains undefeated at Drake Stadium.
“Once I knew the [world championships] trials were going to be here, I knew I had never lost on this track and it’s a fast track,” Harrison said. “I knew I love this track. It boosted my confidence up.”
“Keni’s a spectacular athlete. Just to be able to put it together constantly and consistently, that’s awesome, so I commend her for that,” runner-up Nia Ali said. “She’s a genuine person, so I’m always happy for people who mean well.”
Harrison – who set the world record of 12.20 seconds in July 2016 – is the first to win three in a row since Gail Devers’ unmatched six straight from 1999 to 2004. Devers has three Olympic golds and eight world championships medals to her name, and Harrison hopes to start adding some of those to her own trophy case this October when she competes at her third worlds.
The first two did not work out as planned. In 2015, a 22-year-old Harrison was disqualified in the semifinals for false-starting. Two years later, Harrison finished fourth and missed out on a medal by two-hundredths of a second.
“Every time I go to worlds, I do a little bit better,” she proclaimed. “The third time’s the charm. 2015 didn’t go how I wanted, ’17 didn’t go how I wanted – this year is going to go how I want. I think I’m just becoming the athlete I know I can be, so I think that’s all that’s going to matter.”
Joining her in Doha, Qatar, will be 2016 Olympic silver medalist Ali and 2016 Olympic champion Brianna McNeal. Ali and McNeal ran 12.55 and 12.61, respectively, in the final in Des Moines to claim spots on what will also be each of their third world teams.
Ali had added motivation from her cheering squad, which includes 4-year-old Titus, also son to two-time U.S. Olympian Michael Tinsley, and 13-month-old daughter Yuri, whom she shares with partner Andre De Grasse, a three-time Olympic medalist sprinter for Canada.
“It’s super tough but they keep me busy and fit, so I’m happy for that,” Ali said as she walked through the media mixed zone with Yuri in her left arm and Titus attached to her side. “I have a lot of tough days where I’m always tired, so they help a lot – when I wake up tired on championship day I know how to work through it.”
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Medaling in the 100-meter hurdles final at Drake was no easy feat. It was the most loaded of any final at these championships. It included the reigning Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalist in the event in McNeal (formerly Rollins), Ali and Kristi Castlin; the world record holder in Harrison; the reigning Pan American Games gold medalist in Queen Claye; winners of four past U.S. titles in Harrison and McNeal; and a combined eight world championships appearances in the event.
“Oh my goodness, I was just talking to Brianna about it actually. On any day, you make one mistake and anyone can make the team,” Ali said of the depth the U.S. women offer. “So it’s definitely a stacked field and I love competing with these ladies; they always make sure you’re prepared when you go to these championships.”
“The more I run against these girls, the more confident I get,” Harrison shared. “My nerves will always be here, but I think being a little bit nervous is what helps me a lot. You just have to be able to control your nerves, and I’m able to do that a lot better now.”
Harrison has been seeing a sport psychologist this season and says it has greatly helped her confidence and mental ability. She has overcome hurdles – no pun intended – from her past that include finishing fourth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials and narrowly missing a spot on what could have been her first Olympic team. Later that month, she broke a 28-year-old world record.
While resetting her world record isn’t top of mind, winning in Doha is.
“I’m ready to go this year. I’m seeing a sport psych, and just talking about my feelings and believing in myself more, that’s the main thing. You’re by yourself on that line and no one can get you to that finish line but yourself, so my confidence has built throughout the years.”