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Keni Harrison emerges from 11 siblings to brink of Olympic berth

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EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Even as the middle child in a family with 11 kids, Keni Harrison always stood out.

Only fitting, then, that her family stands out, too. A few of them are hoping they’ll be at the stadium in Rio de Janeiro later this summer – dressed in their familiar neon shirts to cheer on Keni, the American record holder in the 100-meter hurdles, at the Olympics.

The 23-year-old Harrison used sports – first gymnastics, then soccer, then, finally, track – to carve her path in an oversized family that wasn’t originally planned that way.

At first, her mother, Karon, didn’t want kids, yet ended up with one short of a dozen – nine of whom are adopted, including Keni, who will try to secure her spot in Rio next week at Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon.

“I know it wasn’t easy raising all of us,” said Keni, who broke the American record last month. “But my parents found a way. They always found a way.”

The Harrison crew grew up in a six-bedroom house in Clayton, North Carolina. Bathroom space was at a premium and meals were typically on the run – many of them eaten out of the back of a hotel shuttle bus the family used to transport all the kids from one activity to another.

Keni was born in Tennessee to a mother she never knew. Karon and Gary had just adopted a daughter, Tasha, when they got a call from the agency about another infant in need of a home. Were they interested?

Next thing they knew, they were on their way home from a camping trip to pick up Keni. She and Tasha are 11 days apart.

The Harrison house has always been filled with noise, screams, love and caring. Casey, 33, is the oldest and Kara, 18, the youngest in a family that includes kids of many nationalities – including two from Bolivia and two of Korean heritage.

“It was always busy, but you don’t think about it,” their mom said. “You had birthday parties out of the back of the car. You always keep snacks in the car. You’re running here and there.”

Both the parents are retired military, with Gary now working for the Transportation Security Administration and Karon as an assistant preschool teacher.

They bought toilet paper in bulk, along with cereal, mac and cheese, fish sticks and milk – lots of milk. The family went through nearly seven gallons a week.

Gary and their grandpa built a large dining room table so they could congregate. One problem: They were rarely home together. Their schedules were just too frenzied; Karon memorized everything and jotted it all down for her husband.

They made plenty of memories. A few embarrassing ones, too.

Like when the family picked pick up Casey after high school cross country practice in a shuttle bus with the word “Marriott” fading on the side but still visible.

“They’d all yell my name and wave,” laughed Casey, an Air Force major living in Anchorage, Alaska. “You sort of pretend you don’t know the people yelling out the window at you.”

It was hard to ignore the talent of Keni, though.

At first, she appeared headed toward a soccer career. She was super-fast, which drew the attention of the track coach who asked her to run in a few meets.

She showed so much potential even with little training and wearing tennis shoes. It didn’t take long until she hit her stride, capturing 100 and 400 hurdles titles at the 2010 USA Junior Olympics. She caught the attention of Clemson, where she went before transferring to Kentucky and going on to twin two individual NCAA titles.

Keni remains a volunteer assistant coach for Kentucky while training under Wildcats coach Edrick Floreal. At the recent NCAA championships in Eugene, she helped out the team before squeezing in her own workouts.

“She’s the kind of kid that doesn’t take anything for granted,” her mom said. “Keni feels she has to live up to a lot of expectations and doesn’t want to disappoint people. She doesn’t realize that everyone will be proud of her no matter how she does.”

Support. This group has that in abundance.

Whenever Keni competes, there’s sure to be family around. Usually in bright attire. That’s the way it was when Casey graduated from the Air Force Academy, her family driving out to Colorado and wearing fluorescent green shirts.

“People were like, `Where is the (family) section?”‘ Casey recounted. “I’m like, `See all those green shirts? It’s right there.”‘

Just thinking about the trials has Keni’s mom on edge, especially since she has to miss it for a previously planned trip. Her husband will be there, though.

It’s a loaded field, too, one that includes 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson, Lolo Jones and Brianna Rollins, the 2013 world outdoor champion. But Harrison is the one to catch after breaking the American record last month at the Nike Prefontaine Classic in a time of 12.24 seconds. It was just 0.03 shy of eclipsing the fastest time in history.

“To everybody else, she’s a superstar,” Casey said. “To us, she’s just Keni.”

MORE: U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials broadcast schedule

Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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