Track and field

For Harper, a golden opportunity

A happy Dawn Harper soars around the Bird's Nest after negotiating every hurdle in her path. A happy Dawn Harper soars around the Bird's Nest after negotiating every hurdle in her path. (Valery hache/AFP/Getty Images)
Associated Press / August 20, 2008
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BEIJING - By the blink of an eye, Dawn Harper made the United States Olympic team. By the scrape of a hurdle, she won a gold medal.

Harper captured the Olympic 100-meter hurdles crown last night, finishing strong while the favorite, American teammate Lolo Jones, clipped the ninth of 10 hurdles.

"That's how close in track and field your dream can either slip away or [be] given to you," Harper said.

Will this go down as the race Harper won, or the race Jones lost?

A great debate to have if you're Harper, who will leave Beijing carrying a gold medal.

Even though Harper thought she had won, she was alarmed by Sally McLellan's wild celebration, thinking for a moment maybe the Australian had sneaked in for the gold. Harper anxiously waited for the results to become official.

It was a familiar, agonizing wait.

Last month at the US Olympic trials, she crossed the line at what seemed like the same time as Nichole Denby. Only one could take the third, and final, spot on the team.

After a delay, the scoreboard flashed her name. She had beaten Denby by 0.007 second - 12.612 to 12.619.

"I didn't know if I made it," Harper said. "I couldn't quite celebrate because I didn't see it. When I did, the tears came."

The same surreal sensation hit her again yesterday. Even as she ran a victory lap around the track, Harper couldn't quite get the feeling to sink in.

"I kept saying, 'What? What?' I was hoping no one could read my lips," Harper said. "I couldn't believe I was holding the flag and getting a medal. It was amazing."

As she made her way from one interview to the next, her coach, Bob Kersee, stood nearby beaming with delight. He said he's known Harper since junior high and that his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, helped guide her to UCLA, where she placed third in 2005 at the NCAA outdoor championships.

In the women's 400-meter final, Sanya Richards was supposed to wear a gold medal for the US.

Richards appeared about to win - taking a lead into the final 80 meters. That's when she began slowing and was passed, not once, but twice.

Richards blamed her fade on a tightening right hamstring, and although she still wound up with a bronze behind Britain's Christine Ohuruogu and Jamaica's Shericka Williams, she hardly looked thrilled up on that podium, sighing after receiving her flowers. Minutes later, she was sobbing into a cell phone, sitting on the floor in a hallway beneath the stands.

Someone who barely made it to Beijing and won a gold medal was men's high jumper Andrey Silnov of Russia. He failed to qualify for his country's team at its Olympic trials - but then turned in a season-best performance of 7 feet 9 3/4 inches last month.

So the Russian federation ordered a "jump-off" between him and another athlete, and afterward, Silnov was put on the team.

Other golds last night went to Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain in the 1,500 meters, and Gerd Kanter of Estonia in the discus throw.

Ramzi crossed the line in 3:32.94 seconds, while Kipruto Kiprop of Kenya took silver in 3:33.11 and Michigan-based Nicholas Willis of New Zealand got the bronze in 3:34.16.

Kanter, the reigning world champ, won with a toss of 225 feet 9 inches on his fourth attempt.

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