Keni Harrison reacts after winning the silver medal in the women's 100-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 2, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO – Keni Harrison thought the wait was over. After five long years being haunted by her missed opportunity in 2016, she was finally competing in the Olympic Games in the 100-meter hurdles.
But after crossing the finish line Monday, Harrison had to wait a bit longer - and this delay seemed interminable. Was she second? Or was she third?
It was obvious that Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico was the gold medalist. But while the small scoreboard next to the track had Harrison second, the giant Olympic Stadium scoreboard ranked her third behind Megan Tapper of Jamaica with the word PHOTO, as in photo finish, next to their names.
“I was like, ‘OK well, at least I’m top three,” said Harrison. “At least I got a medal. Be happy.”
Luckily, her best friend was there at the edge of the track to ease her mind. Jenna Prandini had just run in the heats of the 200-meter dash, qualifying for the semifinals.
“You got second,” Prandini assured her.
“It made me feel a little bit happier,” Harrison said. “Again, I’m just ecstatic whatever color I got. The goal is just to come here and do the best you can and I feel like I did that.”
Camacho-Quinn’s winning time was 12.37 seconds, while Harrison came in at 12.52 and Tapper at 12.55. Gabbi Cunningham of Team USA was seventh at 13.01.
“Man, the feeling is amazing,” Harrison said. “Of course everyone wants the gold, but I’ve got myself back out here on this world stage and I’m getting better and better.”
Harrison’s silver medal closed the chapter on what happened in 2016, when she came into the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field as the favorite and inexplicably wound up sixth. Two weeks later, Harrison broke the 28-year-old world record in the 100 hurdles with a time of 12.20 seconds, but she had to watch on television as Team USA swept the medals at the Rio Olympics. Brianna Rollins took the gold, Nia Ali the silver and Kristi Castlin the bronze.
“I think missing out on Rio, it’s always in the back of my head when I’m training,” Harrison said. “That’s what continues to make me work hard, just remembering that moment of getting sixth at the U.S. Trials.”
She had to pick herself up and rebuild her confidence. Undefeated going into the 2017 worlds in London, Harrison was fourth – an improvement over her disqualification in the world semifinals two years earlier - while teammate Dawn Harper Nelson won the silver. Harrison took the gold in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2018 indoor world championships, then captured her first major medal on the outdoor world stage, the silver at the 2019 world championships behind Ali.
“I don’t think it was shocking that I came here and am able to get a medal,” Harrison said. “It’s just one of those things you dream about every single night. I knew that I was definitely capable.”
Team USA has now won a medal in the 100 hurdles in six straight Olympic Games and eight of the last 10. LaVonna Martin, who is married to Harrison’s coach Edrick Floreal, won the silver in 1992.
Harrison, 28, and Camacho-Quinn, 24, both competed for the University of Kentucky, and both were NCAA champions. Harrison, from Clayton, North Carolina, was already a pro when Camacho-Quinn, who was raised in Ladson, South Carolina, arrived to be coached by Floreal.
“Today just kind of felt like old times, like we were back training again,” Harrison said, “so I knew that she was going to bring her A game and I had to bring mine.”
They were running almost even when the taller, more powerful Camacho-Quinn - whose older brother Robert Quinn is a linebacker for the Chicago Bears - pulled ahead.
Both averted disaster late in the race. “She was like, ‘I think I almost fell,’” Harrison said, “and I was like, ‘Well, I hit the hurdle right after you did.’ I think we were just so focused on that finish line that we kind of forgot that we need to finish the actual hurdle that was in front of us. But we’re both injury-free and we got medals.”
Camacho-Quinn also exorcised some demons from 2016, when she made the Olympic team at age 19, but was disqualified in the semifinals. She clipped the eighth hurdle, hit the ninth and then crashed into the 10th. She was so devastated she went into hiding at Kentucky.
“It stays with me all the time because I’m constantly reminded,” Camacho-Quinn said, “like somebody’s always messaging me and will be like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry for what happened.’ I’m like, ‘I need y’all to let that go, please.’ Yesterday, before the semis, I kind of had a breakdown because I was like, ‘I don’t want the same thing to happen again.”
Instead, Camacho-Quinn, who had been the world-leader all season, set an Olympic record of 12.26 seconds in the semifinal. But she didn’t get Harrison’s world mark.
“Of course, inside of me, I’m like, ‘Yay!’” Harrison said, “but it’s a record and records are made to be broken. The way that she’s going, who knows?”