With precision and poise, Dawn Harper-Nelson won a virtual dead sprint with hurdles as obstacles, and she still had a bit left over for flair.
On a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon, Harper-Nelson capped Day Four at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships at Sacramento State with a celebratory cartwheel and waves and winks to one and all. And why not?
Thanks to a lean at the finish line, Harper-Nelson won her third national title and topped a star-studded 100-meter hurdles field in a meet marred by big-name scratches and withdrawals. She asserted later that hurdlers dont back out of big meets. They charge forward, and she did in ideal conditions at Hornet Stadium, winning in 12.55 seconds and delighting the announced crowd of 9,226.
Were fierce, and we compete and we dont back down, Harper-Nelson said. I love the drama for us and the fans. I knew I had to be perfect today. And the cartwheel, fans love it. Im in a very good mood.
Though she took the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Harper-Nelson maintained with wide eyes that winning never gets old. She admitted she wasnt entirely perfect, with a little mistake in the middle but held off Queen Harrison, who was second in 12.56, and five-time national champion and two-time Olympian Lolo Jones, who was third in 12.65. Defending champion, reigning world champion and American record holder Brianna Rollins was fifth in 12.81, indicating how talented this field was.
Rollins had the fastest time in the world this year, a 12.53 effort at the Rome Diamond League meet. She finished 0.01 seconds ahead of Harper-Nelson, who said a good start and a finishing lean were paramount for her and her coach, Bob Kersee.
I was thinking, If I do anything with my life, get out of the blocks, she said with a laugh. Coach was pleased.
Jones had every reason to back out, dealing with a tight hamstring, but she wants to compete in any race she can as she rounds into form after spending her winter with the Olympic bobsled team. Friday, sprint sensation Allyson Felix scratched from the womens 100 semifinals, and seasonal world leader LaShawn Merritt was a late withdrawal in the mens 400.
Hurdlers dont back out, Jones said. Its usually the sprinters. It was a hot track and a great field.
In other events:
• Sharon Day-Monroe became the first American to win four consecutive (indoors and outdoors) heptathlon titles, finishing with 6,470 points. She made the Olympic team in 2008 in the high jump, then switched to the heptathlon. At the 2014 Indoor Championships, Day-Monroe set an American record. Here, she zipped from one station to another over two frantic days.
It feels awesome, especially in an off-year (when there are no World Championships or Olympics), said Day, a Cal Poly graduate. It feels really good to win another championship in front of a great crowd and in my home state.
• Emma Coburn won the womens 3,000-meter steeplechase in a meet- and stadium-record 9 minutes, 19.72 seconds for her third U.S. title since 2011. Her time was the third fastest by an American. Coburn also owns the No. 2 all-time performance in American history, and she joked the water was tempting at some points of the steeple, as if jumping in later.
Its very warm here, and Im from Colorado, where 65 degrees is pretty hot, Coburn said.
• Leo Manzano prevailed in the mens 1,500 in 3:38.63 for his first national outdoor title after placing second four times, including 2013. The 2012 Olympic Trials champion, Olympic silver medalist and four-time NCAA champion for Texas is known for a late kick. His last lap was a sizzling 52.47 as he overtook Pat Casey in the final 100 meters to win by .31 seconds.
You never know whats going to happen, but I am always confident that Ill give it a good battle, Manzano said, adding the reason for his late-race surges is the love of running, the purest of the sport.
• Gil Roberts took the 400 in a personal-best 44.53, dominating a field that was thinned a bit without Merritt, the reigning world champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist. Roberts won his first national outdoor title and didnt care who was in the race or not, saying, I just tried to hit the curve and maintain technique throughout. I cant really focus on what anybody else is doing. I can only focus on myself. The former Texas Tech star won the national indoor title in 2012.
• Amanda Bingson repeated as the womens hammer champion with a 246-foot, 3-inch effort. The American record holder known to compete with a flower in her hair and doing back flips on big throws kept it simple here. She was happy with the gold but not the overall effort, saying of a back flip, I wasnt worthy of it. ... After winning last year, this is the first time I felt a little pressure to win again. It was really kind of nerve-racking. Now Ill have to do it again next year and go for a three-peat.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.