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September 3, 2008

Catching up with Tech's Olympic Queen

By: Matt Kovatch

By now, the odds are you’ve read or heard Queen Harrison’s story over the past couple of months. You probably know about how she pulled out of the NCAA Championships with a hamstring injury before improbably placing second in the 400-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Trials. You probably know about how she advanced through the prelims on the world’s biggest stage before bowing out in the semifinals, and maybe you even saw the race on TV.

It’s certainly been a busy summer for the junior hurdler from Richmond, who made Virginia Tech history by becoming the first female Hokie to make the U.S. Olympic Team in any sport while still a student-athlete. She spent a little over three weeks in China, and on her first day back in Blacksburg, she took some time to share a little more about her experience in Beijing before getting back into the swing of things during Tech’s first week of classes.

IHS: We all know how you fared during your race, but what was going through your mind on the big day? You obviously would’ve liked to have made the final, but were you at least happy to get out of the prelims?
QH: “Yeah, I was definitely happy – I’m happy just to have made the team, really. Race-wise, I felt really good. I didn’t feel nervous. I’m the type of runner who doesn’t really get nervous that much. Maybe the night before a little bit, but when you step out into the arena, every track is the same 400 meters, so I don’t really get nervous. It just had been a long time since I raced. I hadn’t raced since the Olympic Trials, and I wasn’t really ‘race sharp.’ Other than that, I felt really good, and I was just really proud to be out there competing with those people.”

IHS: What was the atmosphere like in the Bird’s Nest (Beijing National Stadium, which housed the opening and closing ceremonies in addition to all the track and field events and held nearly 91,000 people)?
QH: “TV didn’t do it any justice. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the track at the University of Pennsylvania where they hold the Penn Relays [Franklin Field, with a capacity of nearly 53,000], but it’s like two times that size. When I went to the Penn Relays, I thought that was the biggest track I’d ever seen, but then I saw the Bird’s Nest. I actually got to go in there a couple days before I raced. We weren’t allowed to practice on the track, but we could look at it. I went in there and it looked huge, but there were no people in the stands. Then when I went out for my race, there were just hundreds of thousands of screaming people, and it’s something that you can’t even put into words. I didn’t feel nervous or anything like that, but it definitely takes your breath away when you walk out and see all those people.”

IHS: Did you hang around to see any other track events? Were you there for Usain Bolt’s record-breaking performances?
QH: “No, I watched those on TV, but I was able to see a lot of the relay races and jumps in person on my race days. I went as a spectator a couple of days, too.”

IHS: Did you go to any other sporting events or get to meet any other famous athletes?
QH: “Actually, I got to meet Michael Phelps. He was in my building. We all stayed in the same building, except for the basketball team. Every other sport stayed in the same building in the village. I was able to go to a couple of other things. I went to a volleyball game, but I didn’t get to see beach volleyball. I went to one men’s and one women’s basketball game. But a lot of the time, I just spent time with my family. My mother and two of my sisters were able to make it over there. I didn’t have tickets for them to go to other sports, so I didn’t go to a lot of them.”

IHS: Everyone who watched the opening ceremonies here in the States was in awe. What was it like to see that in person?
QH: “I was only at the closing ceremonies. I wish I would’ve been at the opening ceremonies, too, but I needed to finish training. At the closing ceremonies, you could just see how much time and effort that China put into it, and they really set the bar high. It was crazy. I know you all probably saw a glimpse of it, but I’m not sure what was broadcast on television. I think the coolest thing was just the intricate details that they put into it. It was amazing to see firsthand. They covered up the field and the track with a tarp type of thing, and all of the different countries were just mingling with one another. It was a great experience.”

IHS: Other than the Olympics, what was some of the Chinese culture that you got to experience in your time there?
QH: “We went to this place called the silk market. I really like to shop and it is an experience that any shopper would really enjoy. They grab all over you and they do whatever they can to sell you their stuff. They try to give you outrageous prices, and you just bargain with them. It was so fun to do that. We also went to an authentic roast duck restaurant, and that was so good. I was so happy. Everyone was always talking about the duck in Beijing, so I had to make sure I tried it – after I was done running, of course. I went with my family, and that was something I really enjoyed.”

IHS: It must have been the experience of a lifetime, but is it safe to say you were ready to come back after nearly a month overseas? Weren’t you forced to stay an extra day because of a delayed flight?
QH: “Yeah, I don’t even know why, but the return flight got canceled. I think they may have overbooked that flight, so we had to stay another day. I just slept a lot so I could get back into this time zone. I was ready to come back like three days before I actually did come back. I kind of wished I could’ve changed my flight, but I really wanted to see the closing ceremonies. After a while, you just want to be able to sleep in your own bed and be able to brush your teeth with the water from the faucet, so I was definitely getting homesick after a while.”