BIRMINGHAM, England – Kentucky alumna Kendra Harrison won her first World Championship in the hurdles on Saturday.
The UK Class of 2015 now volunteer assistant coach claimed 60-meter hurdles gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships.
Harrison, a two-time NCAA Champion in the hurdles as a senior at Kentucky in 2015, set the World Championship record and tied the American record 7.70 to claim her first global title.
“It feels amazing to finally get out there and get the job done, to get the gold I have been working so hard for,” Harrison said. “I came confident and had a good feeling. As soon as I pushed out of the blocks I felt great and just kept on going.”
Harrison – who still trains with Kentucky head coach Edrick Floreal on the UK campus – took a decorated, yet long, road to her first major win.
She qualified for her first World Championships 100m hurdles in Beijing with silver at the USATF Championships weeks after her wrapping up her senior season in 2015. But in Beijing, she was disqualified for a false start in the semifinal round.
Then in 2016, her first full season as a professional, she smashed a hurdle early on in the world indoor 60m hurdles final, coming last.
Never one to dwell on adversity, she began setting the world alight outdoors, setting the American record at the Prefontaine Classic, only to finish sixth a month later at the same track in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials final. Not to be discouraged from missing a first Olympic berth, Harrison set the 100m hurdles world record, 12.20, two weeks later at the London Anniversary Games and went on to sweep the Diamond League title race.
In 2017, Harrison dominated en route to the USATF indoor 60m hurdles and outdoor 100m hurdles titles, but was fourth, just off the podium at the World Championships in London.
Then Harrison set the American record in Lexington early this indoor season, only to see longtime rival Sharika Nelvis break that record, running 7.70, just ahead of her PR-tying 7.72, to win the U.S. title two weeks ago at the USATF Indoor Championships last month. But by virtue of her top-three finish at the U.S. Championships, Harrison booked her spot on the team in England this weekend, and she seized this opportunity.
So it took until 2018 for Harrison to claim a first global gold, but she did it in some style, running faster than 7.8 in all three rounds, and coming within hundredths of a second of the world record 7.68.
Harrison now ranks No. 3 on the 60m hurdles all-time list.
“My No. 1 goal was just to come across that line first,” Harrison said. “Coach told me to just worry about my first three steps and that’ll set up my race. That’s the only thing that was really going through my mind. He believed in me since day one. I used my defeats. Just put all those together and just came out here and got the job done.”
Two more Wildcats, both part of the UK Class of 2017, competed for Team USATF at the World Indoor Championships this weekend. U.S. Champion and Kentucky undergraduate assistant coach Javianne Oliver and U.S. silver medalist Destiny Carter advanced to the World 60m semifinals on Friday.
Oliver had the fifth fastest time of the semifinals, but did not advance, because fourth in her heat. Destiny Carter was 19th fastest overall in the semifinals.
Oliver was NCAA and Southeastern Conference 60m silver medalist last year, while Carter ran the leadoff leg on UK’s NCAA Champion 4x400m relay last June.
In the last eight months Floreal has coached Harrison to this World Indoor title, after guiding Omar McLeod (Arkansas alumnus competing for Jamaica now serving as a UK volunteer assistant) to the 110m hurdles World Championship and Kori Carter (Stanford alumna competing fort the U.S. now serving as a UK volunteer assistant) to the 400m hurdles World Championship.