Stuart Weir charts the superb career of the world 100m hurdles record-holder
The look of shock on Kendra Harrison’s face at the 2016 Anniversary Games in London when she realised she had broken the world record in the 100m hurdles was priceless. It was also the highpoint of a rollercoaster year for her.
Keni, as she’s often known, was born in Tennessee and adopted, growing up in a family with 10 other children. She expresses gratitude to the couple who adopted her and speaks of her life in a matter of fact way: “It’s all I knew and it’s such a great family. We are all pretty close and I love it.”
She was sporty, growing up playing soccer and doing gymnastics before finding her way into track.
Harrison recalls: “I did other sports but I kinda fell into track and field. I was a gymnast so it was easy for me to jump over things so I just had the ability to hurdle.”
She went to Clemson University, South Carolina, before transferring to the University of Kentucky. As a student she seemed equally proficient at 60m, 100m and 400m hurdles. She is often asked about that versatility, which she sees as something that came naturally. “I came into the sport late and didn’t take track seriously until my junior year in high school”, she suggests. “That was the first time I had a hurdle coach so I learned all the events at once. I think that’s why I was able to do so well, that I wasn’t just a 100m hurdler growing up. I did both.”
She won the NCAA 400m hurdles and 100m hurdles with the races just 35 minutes apart but as she pointed out, at practice she would often run 100s and 400s in the same session adding: “Two races in a short time was easy because it was all I knew.”
Prior to the 2017 World Championships she admitted that she and her coach had a cunning plan – to do both in one championship. “You know that is something my coach and I have talked about,” she explains. “But the schedule would need to change because at the moment 100m and 400m tend to overlap.”
At Kentucky she was coached by Edrick Floreal who continues to be her coach in her professional career. Harrison says of him: “Coach Flo is amazing. Overall he’s a really caring person. He cares about his athletes on and off the track, that’s what sets him apart.
“He’s also very knowledgeable about the hurdles. He always wants to figure out new drills and new ways to make us faster. He really enjoys it and I think I definitely wouldn’t be where I am without him.
“Because of him I’ve been able to move forward from times in my career when I messed up. He was there every single time and I think that says a lot about him. He cares about my performance on the track but also about me as a person.”
Harrison admits to being a “hurdle nut” who loves studying her event. She explains: “I think being able to understand your event and know how technical it is, helps you know what you need to do to improve.”
Her training week has not changed much over the years: “Mondays and Fridays we run a lot but no hurdle technique work. Tuesdays and Thursdays I hurdle. Wednesday I have a day off. It’s the same schedule I had in college when I trained with coach Flo as I do now.”
In 2015 she came second in the US trials in 12.56 to qualify for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. Disqualification for a false start ended the championship for her in the semi-final.
Talking to Keni, you constantly see what a positive person she is. Her assessment of Beijing was: “I was young and I was still learning. It was my first major championship. I’ve tried to look at the positives and I don’t dwell on what happened. That it doesn’t happen again is all that matters. At each championship I take something from my races, which makes me a bit better.”
Read more at http://www.athleticsweekly.com/interviews/catching-up-with-hurdles-queen-kendra-harrison-104020#AHPyjsjFVS1SBzDW.99