Stuart Weir wrote this piece on Dawn Harper-Nelson, and his affection for her kindess, even when things are not going well for her! Obviously, with the battle in the 100m hurdles, old rival Sally Pearson took the gold, and Dawn Harper-Nelson took the silver!
The old rivals dominate (even without a new hairdo), by Stuart Weir
The received wisdom was that the 100H race was Keni Harrison’s to lose and perhaps it was. She seemed to hit about six hurdles on her way to fourth place in 12.74. And don’t forget she was third in her semi-final in 12.86 grabbing the final place for the fastest times among the non automatic qualifiers. Her post race comments were revealing: “Sometimes at these championships it isn’t about just executing the race. People see world record holder, they see number one in the world but this is my first time making the final ever. To get fourth, it’s a bittersweet moment right now.”
In 2016 Harrison set a world record 12.20 in this very London Stadium at the Anniversary Games. She also ran the world lead this year 12.28. Jasmin Stowers did not make the US team but she has the second fastest 2017 time 12.47 and a PR of 12.35. So what chance for two old ladies? Pearson and Harper-Nelson, both in their 30s, were the most mature athletes in the race.
They have history. Dawn Harper (before she married Mr Nelson) won the 2008 Olympic title in 12.54 with Pearson second in 12.64. In 2012 the order was reversed with Pearson taking gold and Harper silver. The times had come down significantly too – 12.35 and 12.37. They contested the 2009-13 World Championship finals. In 2009 Pearson was 5th and Harper 7th (but Harper ran 12.48, the fastest time in the championship in the semi-final). In 2011 both ran PRs – Pearson winning with 12.28 and Harper third with 12.47. In 2013 Pearson was second and Harper fourth. Pearson missed the 2015 Worlds after breaking her wrist in a fall in the Rome Diamond League. Harper-Nelson fell in the semi-final. That fall was a particular disappointment as the final was the day before her husband’s birthday and it sure put a damper on celebrations.
Harper-Nelson said after the London 2017 final: “The race was so intense. In the blocks, you try and get yourself tense and ready to go. I was shaking in the blocks. I was saying if he doesn’t start this gun, I’m going to have to raise my hand. When the gun went off, I can honestly say I don’t remember the first two hurdles. It was such a blur just trying to go intense and make sure you’re with the ladies. To come across the line and lean for the ending and get a get a silver! Silver tastes like gold tonight. Just so you know, Dawn is not laying her head down sad tonight. I’m really excited to have the year that I’ve had and to come out with a medal for the US. It’s just such a blessing. You know when the gun goes off, you can count on Dawn!”
She added: “Towards the end, I could see Sally out of the corner of my eye. Of course it’s me and her! But it was so sweet for it to be me and her”.
Going back to her Olympic gold medal in 2008, she once told me that she felt she had never had the credit she deserved for the win, saying “To this day I get a random person come up to me and say may be you would have got second if Lolo had not hit the hurdle. And once again, I have to say, ‘It is 10 hurdles and we all have to cross them'”. Crossing all ten hurdles is something Mrs Dawn Harper-Nelson is pretty good at.
I am privileged to have seen all her finals from 2008 onwards but my fondest memory of her was in the Manchester City Games when she fell. Coming off the track disappointed, she was approached by a little girl who asked for a selfie with her. I can only guess the frustration and disappointment she was feeling. Yet her reaction to the little girl was “Of course” and a big smile, patience and making the girl feel that she was special. A classy act by a class athlete and class person.
Finally I was intrigued by this revelation on the US Track and Field website. After the semi-final, US Track and Field told us, “Before scampering off to cool down, Harper Nelson revealed she has no surprise hairdo planned for Saturday’s final”. Disappointing investigative journalism. I would have like them to probe harder and get a full list of things Harper-Nelson was not planning to do before the final.