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Dawn Harper trains harder and more intense now that she can commit all of her attention to track. Leading into the 2008 Olympics, she had three jobs as a recent college graduate, and she had to find the time to train. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Dawn Harper loves the recognition that she gets as an Olympic champion, and the Nike sponsorship that allows her to focus on the sport. But she’s still training like she’s running from behind. Photo by Jeff Lewis
The former UCLA Bruin was not expected to win the gold in the 100-meter hurdles at the Beijing Olympics, but she did, and she’s looking for one more.
Dawn Harper showed up at the 2008 Beijing Olympics not really knowing what was going on.
“In 2008 I was just a baby really,” Harper said. “A lot of people didn’t even expect me to make the team.”
And a lot of people had some very simple advice for the former UCLA Bruin as she prepared to compete in the women’s 100-meter hurdles.
“Everybody outside of my circle told me, ‘this is just your first Olympics, don’t worry about getting a medal. Just feel your way through. But your second Olympics, you have a better chance of getting a medal.’ But I was like, I want to get a medal this time.”
Harper placed 3rd at the U.S. Olympic Trials that year, so there were no expectations that she would medal. But she, or her coach Bob Kersee, were not selling her abilities short, and she was not about to wait until 2012 to pick up her medal, so she went ahead and won the gold in 2008. Things have changed a lot since then.
The recognition has been great for Harper, but more importantly the Nike sponsorship has allowed her to focus solely on track. Coming out of UCLA she had to work three jobs to get by while training for her track career. She was at that point of her career where it could have all ended and she could have settled into a normal life, or she could go for it all. Well she went for it all, and she got it.
Now she’s looking to do it again. This time around the advice that Harper is getting is a little different, as people are telling her that since she already has a gold medal, that she should really enjoy herself at the Olympics. But that is not what she is crossing the Atlantic for. This is no leisure trip. She’s looking to pick up another gold medal.
Harper is not sneaking up on anybody like she did in 2008, as she took first place at this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials, and she is the one that everybody is eyeing to beat. That is exactly the position that she wants to be in.
“Would I rather be the one with the target on her back, or be the one that can hopefully get a medal? I rather be the one with the target on my back,” Harper said.
A second gold medal would take Harper to even higher levels, as she would become Olympic royalty for winning the gold at consecutive Olympics. She has the prize within her grasp, which has led her to working even harder this time. And she is wiser, which could produce an even better performance from four years ago.
Kersee has Harper in the right mindset to keep her motivated.
“We’re chasing them,” Harper said. “We never go in cocky.”
Even though Harper is the woman to beat, she is attacking this as if this is anybody’s race to win, which drives her to work harder and run faster. She has not become complacent like many athletes who have already reached the mountaintop tend to do.