Track and field: To Dawn Harper, it's a lock
BEIJING -- You'd think that being an Olympic gold medalist would open some doors for Dawn Harper, who won the 100-meter hurdles Tuesday after U.S. teammate Lolo Jones bumped the next-to-last hurdle and stumbled toward the finish.
Not all doors, apparently. When she returned to the athletes' village and tried to enter her room, the knob spun in her hand and the door wouldn't budge.
After contacting U.S. team coach Jeanette Bolden, she ended up sleeping in the bed of Tiffany Ross-Williams, who was spending the night at a hotel. Her new roommate was Damu Cherry -- one of the women Harper had beaten to win the gold medal.
"Yeah, that's really interesting," said Harper, a 2006 UCLA graduate who trains in Los Angeles with Bobby Kersee.
Actually, the arrangement worked out fine. "I kept saying, 'I'm sorry,' " Harper said. "It was weird. She was saying, 'No, Dawn, you deserved it.'
"I kept feeling like I was going to have to wake up and run again. Lord, please, no."
The notion that she will, from now on, be introduced as an Olympic gold medalist stunned her into speechlessness, and she cried at a news conference Wednesday when asked to put her thoughts into words.
"It's the first time it's hitting me," said Harper, who went to high school in East St. Louis, Ill., and idolized six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
"It's amazing. It's jaw-dropping. You work so hard and for it to actually come true and realize that it happened, that you raced the best in the world and for you to come out on top, it's a blessing. It's a blessing."
She's also blessed with a husband who was willing to sacrifice to support her training after she underwent knee surgery in February. She met Craig Everhart while they competed for UCLA, and both became captains of their respective track teams. They were married last October.
"Actually I told her our freshman year that we were going to get married, and she didn't like me for at least two years," said Everhart, who still runs but took on the extra job of mentoring UCLA students to help support his wife's training.
"Eventually I broke her down. Actually, I grew and became a lot more mature, and she started seeing me and seeing how hard we were working, and everything just worked out for the better."
Harper said she had spoken with Joyner-Kersee and plans to return to East St. Louis for a celebration at the youth center named in Joyner-Kersee's honor. Before that, she planned to leave Beijing Thursday to compete in meets on the European circuit.
"There's so much more that Bobby Kersee has to teach me," she said. "By no means have I learned even half of what he has to show me. I feel the world is out there for me to go and get. I still feel like I have so much more to show the world."
-- Helene Elliott
Photo: Dawn Harper celebrates winning the women's 100-meter hurdles Tuesday night. Credit: Valery Hache / AFP / Getty Images