When Keni Harrison failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics in the 100-meter hurdles, it was one of the biggest upsets of the U.S. track and field trials. She set a new world record shortly a week later, but never got a chance to run for a medal.
She’ll get that chance now. Harrison, who grew up in Clayton, left no doubt this time around, winning the final Sunday night in Eugene, Ore., and advancing to the Tokyo Games.
Harrison will be joined there by Raleigh’s Randolph Ross, who qualified for his first Olympics on Sunday with a third-place finish in the 400-meter dash.
“My expectations were to win,” Harrison said.
Harrison said despite the five-year wait to redeem herself, the chance “came around pretty quick.” She took a different approach to the trials this time, working with a sports psychologist.
“I tried not to put pressure on myself,” Harrison said. “I thought of this as just another meet and not put too much emphasis on the Olympic trials. It really calmed me and I felt really relaxed.”
Charlotte’s Gabbi Cunningham finished fourth but could still make the Olympics if second-place finisher Brianna McNeal loses her appeal of a doping suspension.
Ross won the NCAA title in the 400 earlier this month, running the fastest time in the world so far in 2021. He was almost a full second slower Sunday.
“My race didn’t really go as planned, but I can’t really complain, having the opportunity to make the team and go to the Olympics,” Ross said.
Ross ran track at Garner High before deciding to run for his father Duane at North Carolina A&T, turning down offers from bigger schools as one of the top track recruits in the country. The rising sophomore has summer school classes to finish before he leaves for Tokyo.
Another A&T runner, Trevor Stewart, finished fourth to claim a spot in the relay pool.
“This is not something you see every day,” Randolph Ross said. “HBCUs are always seen as schools without money. You have a talented person come out now and then. But being one of the only colleges to have two people possibly make it to Tokyo, it’s amazing.“
Another Triangle runner could clinch an Olympic spot Monday night: Cary’s Elly Henes will run in the 5,000-meter final. The N.C. State graduate student was the NCAA champion in that event earlier this month for the Wolfpack.