Harper wins Olympic hurdles after Jones slips

BEIJING Tue Aug 19, 2008 1:39pm EDT

1 of 17. Dawn Harper of the U.S. celebrates winning the women's 100m hurdles final of the athletics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in the National Stadium August 19, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

BEIJING (Reuters) - American Dawn Harper sprung a huge surprise when a dramatic mistake by compatriot Lolo Jones let her through to win Olympic gold in the women's 100 meters hurdles on Tuesday.

Jones, the fastest woman in the world this year, looked to be cruising to victory when she clattered into the penultimate hurdle, knocking her off her stride, and Harper surged across the line to win her first major title.

"You hit a hurdle about twice a year where it affects your race. It's just a shame that it was on the biggest race of my life," said a tearful Jones. "Today I crashed and burned."

The 24-year-old Harper fought back her own tears of joy after crossing the line in 12.54 seconds and admitted her victory was a shock.

"I always thought I was capable if I focused on myself. But for others, yes (it was a surprise)," she said.

"I just knew I needed to react to the gun, and just you know, head down, and focus on me and be quick and attack each hurdle and then head for the line."

Harper comes from the same city, East St Louis, as three-times Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee and is coached by the former heptathlete's husband.

"This is a kid nobody knew, now she is the Olympic champion. It's breathtaking," Bob Kersee said, adding that his wife had given Harper a pep talk last year when she was not running very well.

It needed a photo to separate the next four runners, who all finished within two hundredths of a second of each other.

After a couple of minutes wait, Australia's Sally McLellan was awarded silver and Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep bronze with the same time of 12.64.

McLellan and Lopes-Schliep, 25, squealed with delight and jumped up and down hugging each other when the result was finally flashed up on the screen.

"Oh my God, is this real?" the 21-year-old McLellan asked. "This is amazing. I can't believe this is even happening."

American Damu Cherry and experienced Jamaican Delloreen Ennis-London, who finished fourth in Sydney eight years ago, were also awarded the same time of 12.65 for fourth and fifth place.

Jones, the world indoor sprint hurdles champion, stumbled over the line in seventh and remained crouched, punching the track in frustration, for a long time trying to come to terms with what had happened.

The 26-year-old, who nearly gave up the sport after failing to get into the U.S. team for the Athens Olympics four years ago, ran the quickest time of the year in the heats and was favorite to win gold.

"Tears of sadness not tears of joy, definitely," she said.

(Aditional reporting by John Ruwitch and Gene Cherry; Editing by Ed Osmond and Alex Richardson)

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