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June 28, 2010

Harrison hurdles her way into history

By: Jimmy Robertson

Queen Harrison

Queen Harrison reserved a portion of July for a cruise with her family as part of a family reunion.

She’s certainly earned a vacation.

Harrison made history in her final track and field meet as a Virginia Tech student-athlete, capturing gold medals in both the 100-meter hurdles and the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships held June 9-12 in Eugene, Oregon. She became the first female athlete in NCAA history to win both of those events at the national meet.

“It’s such a relief,” Harrison said. “To be able to make it through the season healthy and then to have a winning campaign … I just can’t put it into words right now. I’m so happy to finish my career the way I did.”

The two championships give her three for this season, as they come on the heels of the 60-meter hurdle national title she won at the NCAA indoor meet in March. Her title then was the first by a Tech female athlete.

In the 400-meter hurdles finals on June 11, Harrison set a school record and a personal record, finishing the race in 54.55 seconds. She held the previous school record of 54.60 seconds.

The next day marked her attempt at history. In the 100-meter hurdles, she jumped out quickly and took control of the race, winning in a time of 12.67 seconds. She held off Ti’erra Brown of Miami, who finished in 12.84 seconds.

“I wasn’t thinking about making history,” Harrison said. “I was always thinking about the race. I just wanted to keep a level head and run my race.”

“That race seemed like an eternity,” sprints and hurdles coach Charles Foster said. “During her warm-up, we talked strategy and I told her that she had to get out fast. She did that and took control of the race.

“We had a plan going into this spring and she trained for it – to go undefeated in those two events and to complete the double [win national championships in both]. I thought she could do that. I knew she was going to face people who were fresh, but Queen’s resilient enough to handle it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her any more elated than after that race.”

The performance of the women’s track team, as a whole, got overshadowed by Harrison’s feats. Behind her, the Hokies finished in fifth place with 33 points, easily the best finish ever for a Tech track and field squad.

The women’s team got strong performances from Kristi Castlin, who finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles and recorded the seventh All-America honor in her career – a program best – and Dorotea Habazin, who finished second in the hammer throw to earn All-America honors. Habazin threw the hammer 210 feet, two inches, but lost to Nikola Lomnicka of Georgia by less than five feet.

Interestingly, Lomnicka is the sister of Tech men’s track standout Marcel Lomnicky, who won the hammer throw national title last year. This year, Lomnicky finished third and teammate Alexander Ziegler finished second with throws of 232 feet, 10 inches and 237 feet, 7 inches, respectively. Walter Henning of LSU won the event with a throw of 238 feet, 9 inches.

The men’s team finished in 10th place, the best finish ever for a Tech men’s squad. In addition to strong performances by Ziegler and Lomnicky, the Hokies also got All-America efforts from sophomore runner Will Mulherin and pole vaulters Jared Jodon and Yavgeniy Olhovsky.

Jodon achieved All-America status for the first time in his Hokie career with a seventh-place effort of 17 feet, 4.5 inches in his first national finals. Olhovsky also vaulted that height, but suffered more misses and finished tied for eighth. He still notched his sixth All-America honor.

Mulherin finished fifth in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 13:50.76. The time set a Tech record in the race, beating out Steve Taylor’s 13:52 set in 1987.

But this meet belonged to the Queen, and now she prepares for her future, which includes finding an agent and working out the details of a contract, and then probably going to the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa on June 23-27.

“When I watch Queen, I don’t know where her talent will end and I don’t want to put limits on it,” said Foster, who has coached Olympic gold medalists Allen Johnson (1996) and Shawn Crawford (2004). “She’s one of the elite track athletes in history and she’s just beginning to see her true talents. I think she’ll go far.”