Keni Harrison, a World-Record Holder, May Finally Win a Title

Anyone who grew up with 10 siblings — she is the middle child — can clearly handle pandemonium. But sangfroid is not yet her trademark in the biggest races. In her first world championships in 2015, she did not reach the final. Her world record in London last year came just two weeks after she had faltered as the favorite at the United States Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., finishing sixth and failing to make the team for the Games in Rio de Janeiro.

It was a brutal blow to Harrison and an illuminating moment to her coach, Edrick Floréal, who had been convinced that Harrison, who had already set an American record, 12.24, was in the right place and head space and blamed himself for not sensing the trouble.

He and Harrison stayed up until “4 or 5 in the morning” the night after the defeat, he said, talking it through. He insisted that she report the next morning to the track.

“I’m pretty sure I was crying throughout the workout because I didn’t want to be there,” she said. “The reality hits you: ‘You didn’t make the team. You are No. 1 in the world. You didn’t make the team. You even broke the American record. You didn’t make the team.’ All those thoughts in your mind, but he kept pushing me, and that’s what got me through.”

Floréal, who also coached Harrison at the University of Kentucky before she turned professional, told her he would travel to London for last year’s Diamond League meet on one condition.

“He said, ‘If you don’t think you’re going to do something amazing, then I’m not going to go,’” Harrison said.

Once there, he shepherded her through her routines. “Basically 24/7: breakfast, lunch and dinner together,” Floréal said in an interview this week. “She was embarrassed about the Olympics, had her head down, didn’t want anyone to see her face.”

But after the first round, he said, her confidence returned.

“And when the gun went off in the final, she was determined to make a statement that ‘I’m not a choker. I just had a bad meet,’” he said. “And I think had that meet and that moment not happened, I’m not sure that world record would ever have been broken. It was the perfect storm.”

Will it thus be impossible to generate another one?

“I do think it could happen again,” Floréal said. “I think she’s in the right place right now.”

Harrison has the world’s leading time again in 2017: a 12.28 last month in Hungary. She also…

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