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TOKYO — In a final that was all about redemption for its two favorites, the women's 100-meter hurdles gold medal race on Monday morning did not disappoint.
Jasmine Camacho-Quinn won the gold medal, just the second gold medal in Puerto Rican history, clocking in at 12.37 seconds. In a photo finish for the second and third place spots, American Keni Harrison claimed silver in 12.52 seconds and Jamaica's Megan Tapper took home the bronze in 12.55.
"It really means a lot. This year I trained really hard; I don’t have a training partner, I’m by myself, so every time I stepped out there I gave it all I had," Camacho-Quinn said. "This was what I wanted for this year, I wanted to be a gold medalist, and I manifested that. I spoke it into existence."
In 2016, Camacho-Quinn was a 19-year-old University of Kentucky student coming off an NCAA championship when she came to her first Olympics.
She fell in her semifinal, her trail leg clipping the top of the eighth of the 10 hurdles, and she couldn't regain her form before the ninth, stumbling and falling to the track.
The daughter of a father born in South Carolina and a mother born in Puerto Rico, Camacho-Quinn chose to represent her mother's island; even though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, the IOC recognizes it as its own country for the purposes of Olympic competition and laws. Tennis player Monica Puig won Puerto Rico's first gold medal in 2016.
Asked how long that Rio stumble stayed with her, Camacho-Quinn said it's basically been inescapable over the last five years.
"I’m constantly reminded; somebody’s always messaging me and like, ‘Oh I’m sorry for what happened’ and I’m like I need y’all to let that go, please," she said, laughing. "I need y’all to let it go.
"But yesterday before semis I kind of had a breakdown because I don’t want the same thing to happen again, but I knew how I’d been racing all season, just do that and I’ll be OK."
She may have allowed that memory to cause her momentary pause, but clearly it didn't linger: Camacho-Quinn set an Olympic record in the semis on Sunday, running 12.26. It ties her for the fourth-fastest performance of all time.
As heartbreaking as Camacho-Quinn's first Olympic experience was, at least she was in Rio. Harrison went into the 2016 U.S. Trials as the best hurdler in the world that season and finished sixth in the final — far outside of the top three that get to go to the Games.
The three American women who did go swept the medals, small solace to the woman who missed her chance to be part of the show. A couple of weeks after her Trials disappointment, Harrison broke the world record in the event, running 12.20 seconds at a meet in London.
Smiling broadly as she approached the microphone in the mix zone, her hands — tipped in perfectly done nails featuring a white base and glimmery red and blue stars — holding an American flag around her shoulders, Harrison called the silver "amazing."
"To miss out in Rio and come to my first Olympics and get a silver medal, you know of course everyone wants the gold but I’ve gotten myself back out here on the world stage, I’m getting better and better, so I couldn’t be happier," she said.
"I think missing out on Rio, it’s always in the back of my head when I’m training, that’s what continues to make me work hard, just remembering that moment of getting sixth at the U.S. Trials, so just picking myself back up and just going after it and building my confidence back up to get a silver medal to bring home to my country, I couldn’t be happier."
Though it did take a couple of minutes for Harrison to officially be declared the silver medalist, she said she felt happy regardless.
"Honestly I was like, 'at least I’m top three, at least I got a medal, be happy', but my friend was standing on the side, Jenna [Prandini, who is running for the U.S. in the 200m semifinals Monday night], and she was like, 'you got second', so it made me feel a little bit happier.
"I’m just ecstatic, whatever color I got. The goal is to come here and do the best you can, and I feel like I did that."
When Camacho-Quinn was a student at Kentucky, Harrison was a volunteer assistant coach for head coach Eldrick Floreal (she has since followed him to the University of Texas), and they practiced against each other often. The experience helped both women.
"Today just felt like old times, like we were back training again. I knew that she was going to bring her ‘A’ game and I had to bring mine," Harrison said. "Being able to train with the collegians, they brought the best out of me; they always want to beat me, and I didn’t want to lose to them, so it was a nice little competition between us."
Camacho-Quinn, whose older brother Robert currently plays for the Chicago Bears, had the three fastest times in the world this season coming into Tokyo, which gave her confidence for the Games.
"This year, when I opened up and seeing where I was" — she ran 12.47 seconds in her opener on April 10 and 12.32 a week later — "I was like, wow, I might have a really fast year this year. From that moment I’m like, 'OK I know what I can do, and let’s work towards that'," she said.
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