Keni Harrison dives for the line while breaking the 100m hurdles world record (Getty Images)Keni Harrison dives for the line while breaking the 100m hurdles world record (Getty Images) © Copyright

When coach tells you to dive, you dive

Keni Harrison made history in 2016, breaking the 28-year-old 100m hurdles world record at the London Anniversary Games. She talks to Ato Boldon for the latest instalment of IAAF Inside Athletics.

“In the race I just remember getting out really fast,” Keni Harrison recalls the 12.20 seconds it took her to rewrite history books.

“I remember getting out and realising I’m in a good position. I just kept telling myself ‘keep going, keep hurdling’. My coach told me to dive at the line and I normally never dive. I just dived as hard as I could.”

The clock initially stopped at 12.5 – nothing groundbreaking for Harrison, who’d already recorded an AR 12.24 in May that ranked her second in the all-time lists. 

“When I saw 12.5 I thought ‘you know Keni, just be blessed that you won. You got back up and you beat the girls that are going to Rio, so just be happy. Don’t even worry about the time, you got back out there’.

“So I’m just trying to walk off the track and Nia [Ali] comes up and is like ‘turn around!’ and I’m like ‘oh my goodness’. To see WR next to my name, it was an unbelievable moment and something that I’m always gonna have with me.”

It was a moment of redemption for Harrison. The 23-year-old had been tipped the red-hot favourite ahead of the Rio Olympics, but failed to secure one of the top three spot at the US Olympic Trials, finishing in sixth.

“I tried to tell myself ‘just make the team’ instead of going out there and having the mindset of ‘I’m out to win’. I think that’s where I went wrong,” she admits.

“Even in the race I can remember that I was thinking and normally when you’re running fast, you don’t have time to think. And I can remember getting out and realising I’m not in first and thinking ‘ok well you’re kinda in second, you’re still there’ and then third, and then fourth, and after that it was just like ‘get me through this race, you did not make the Olympic team’.”

The disappointment worked as fuel for the remainder of the season. After her performance in London there were calls for Harrison to get a wildcard spot as the reigning world record holder. They didn’t materialise, but she had never toyed with the idea herself anyway.

“I think it’s fair,” she says of the cut-throat US Trials system. 

“You have to be able to perform when it counts and I did not. Everyone can’t be perfect all the time, it just happened that my bad day was the Olympic Trials. I do think I can compete at big meets and I am gonna prove that in 2017.”

Breaking the world record, she says, was something she had to do in order to get back up on her feet after the defeat. It gave her new confidence going into this world championship year and beyond.

That confidence was visible right from the start of the 2017 season when the world record holder stormed to a world leading 60m hurdles PB of 7.75 in Kentucky. The time ranks her ninth in the all-time lists and is just 0.07 shy off Susanna Kallur’s nine-year-old world indoor record. She followed up her performance with a 7.76 in Karlsruhe and her indoor campaign isn’t finished yet as she’ll be lining up in the US Indoor Championships this weekend (March 3-5). 

Further to her sprint hurdles talent, Harrison has also proved herself over the 400m hurdles distance and thinking about doubling up in 2018.

“The long-term goal is to have all the world records in all hurdles events – to set history,” she says matter-of-factly. At the rate this 24-year-old is going, we wouldn’t bet against her.

To hear Harrison talk about major championships and the transition from collegiate athlete to pro, watch the full episode below: