EUGENE - First-year pro Keni Harrison brought the Prefontaine Classic crowd to its feet on Saturday afternoon with a flawless race in the 100 meter hurdles, setting a new American record of 12.24 in the process.
Facing a stacked field with five women who had personal bests faster than 12.40, Harrison made it look easy. She exploded out of the blocks into an early lead, and stayed clean over the hurdles. The previous American record holder, Brianna Rollins, who ran 12.26 in 2013, finished a distant second to Harrison in 12.53.
Harrison’s time is the second-fastest ever run in the event, trailing only the world record of 12.21 set by Bulgaria’s Yordanka Donkova in 1988. The wind of +0.7 was well under the allowable limit.
“I felt really smooth,” the under-stated 23-year-old said after her race. “I’m very surprised.”
Harrison said her coach, Edrick Floreal, wants her to shoot for 12.1 in the event, “so that is the pace I am going at in practice. But, you know, it’s practice. You train for this kind of thing. As smooth as that felt, I’m excited for the future.”
That future will obviously include the Olympic Trials at Hayward in July, and it is common knowledge that the 100 hurdles is one of the toughest ways to make the U.S Olympic team. Harrison, who calls herself a “hurdle nerd” because of her love of studying her technique on video, also knows that her rivals will be gunning for her, but she says she isn’t worried.
“I’m probably going to have a target on my back now but that is only going to make me hungrier and keep me training hard. Do what my coach says and get ready for Trials.
“Every time I step on the line these girls are my competitors. I raced against a lot of them in college. Coming into my first year as a professional it’s nice to have them pushing me to get better and they’re getting better too . . . We’re going to put on a show at the Trials.”
Known for excelling at both the 100 meter and 400 meter hurdles in college, the 2015 NCAA outdoor champion from Kentucky laughed and shook her head when asked if she would be running the longer hurdle race at all this year. She was “a team player in college,” running relays and both hurdle races, but focusing on the 100 hurdles has helped the slender, 5’4” Harrison to get stronger.
Jamaica’s Omar McLeod, unbeaten so far in 2016, won the men’s 110 hurdle race easily in 13.06, with David Oliver second in 13.38. Aries Merritt, continuing his comeback from a kidney transplant after last summer’s World Championships, placed fourth in 13.51, and hobbled off the track after the race.
“I think I might have strained my groin a little bit,” Merritt said. “This stuff happens, in a few weeks I’ll be fine. I’m not really worried about it. My training has been going very good until now.”
McLeod said he was happy with his race and his time, though his start suffered after the race was called back because of an apparent false start.
“I never chase time. 13.0 is consistent (for me). The false start threw me off a little. I had a better start when they false-started.”
Former UO hurdler Jonathan Cabral was given a warning after the initial start but was allowed to remain in the race. Cabral took seventh in 13.57.
Veteran Michael Tinsley overcame a slow start in the 400 meter hurdles to win in a season-best 48.74. Tinsley caught Kerron Clement at the last hurdle when Clement chopped his steps. Clement took second in 48.87, and Bershawn Jackson was third in 49.04. Surprise 2015 World Champion Nicholas Bett of Kenya was eighth in 51.33.
An exhausted Tinsley was having trouble standing ten minutes after the race. Asked about his come from behind win, the 32-year-old Jackson State graduate said, “Coming down the homestretch it’s kill or be killed. (You have to) be strong and be focused.”