Kendra Harrison is in demand.
That’s rare for an athlete in an Olympic year who didn’t compete at the Olympic Games. But the 23-year-old hurdler isn’t a typical athlete. She is one who broke a world record which had stood for 28 years just two weeks after she failed to qualify for the US Olympic squad in the 100m hurdles. That story and the athlete behind it demands attention, and Harrison is relishing it.
“I love it,” Harrison said of the attention she’s attracting, as a line of journalists patiently wait to speak with her after her 12.42 victory in the Lausanne leg of the IAAF Diamond League on Thursday evening, her first outing since her sensational 12.20 world record in London.
“After I broke the American record, that’s when I started getting a lot more press. The pressure’s going to keep getting easier for me to handle. So I’m going to keep getting better and better at that.”
That 12.24 performance at the Eugene leg of the IAAF Diamond League brought more attention Harrison’s way, but it also upped the pressure building on her petite shoulders as the national selection meeting approached. That ultimately led to her one bad day this season and a sixth-place finish at the US trials on that same Eugene track.
The storyline is now clear to athletics fans. Instead of calling it a season, Harrison, the fastest hurdler in the world, decided to forge on and make the most of it, which brought her to London and the world record to her. That, however, didn’t make watching the Olympics from her couch any easier.
"It was tough," Harrison said. "It was tough watching it but that was something that I needed to do and something that I wanted to do. I wanted to still cheer my teammates on.”
Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin swept the medals in Rio, seemingly vindicating the notoriously difficult US selection process. No one was more pleased than Harrison.
“I knew that they’d do great in Rio,” Harrison said. “I was thinking that there would be a 1-2-3 and I’m very happy for them.” The rare sweep also inspired and motivated Harrison to treat the Olympic ‘break’ as a heavy mid-season training period.
“It only made me hungrier and to keep focusing on what I need to focus on,” she said.
“Watching the Olympics, I trained even harder. I went back to the weight room, I went back to the hard 200 repeats, that kind of thing. So I’m definitely in the shape of my life. I’m excited for the future.”
She was pleased with her 12.42 in Lausanne, a performance she graded as “pretty good” given her rustiness from a five-week competitive lay-off.
“I just have to get in that competitive mode. As the race went on, I was able to pull away in the way that I needed to. I just need to fix the beginning and I know I can go faster. I’ve been off for a few weeks and I was a little rusty but I’m pretty confident going into my next two races that I’ll go faster.”
What specifically needs to be fixed? Harrison, a self-professed ‘hurdles nerd’, was delighted to provide an analysis.
“My beginning needs to be faster. I know I can lose some time in the beginning. My touchdown from one to two – it can be quicker. I’ve done it in practice. In my races I don’t stop dropping time in between hurdles until three, four and five. So if I can start dropping time from one, two and three, then I can run faster.”
“And (hurdles) seven, eight, nine and 10, I’m kind of floating off the hurdles. So if I execute more at the end and stop kicking my foot out, I know I can break my time again.”
She’s not offering predictions but she’s not discounting the possibility that she can improve the record even further this season. Her schedule leaves her with two options: the upcoming IAAF Diamond League stops in Paris on Saturday (27) and in Zurich next Thursday (1).
“I’m going to keep working on what I need to fix and not worry about the other hurdlers. And just really zone in to what I need to do and get it done.”
In the meantime, she’ll continue to relish what she’s already accomplished.
“My confidence is definitely up,” she said. “To be 23 and already have the world record feels awesome. I’m only going to keep working harder.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF