Dawn Harper-Nelson

Dawn Harper Nelson calls off retirement after one year off

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Former Olympic 100m hurdles champion Dawn Harper Nelson says she will make a comeback after one year of retirement.

Harper Nelson won Olympic gold in 2008, overtaking Lolo Jones after her U.S. teammate clipped a hurdle near the end of the race. She also won Olympic silver in 2012, barely losing to Australia’s Sally Pearson in a thrilling final in which she set her personal best of 12.37 seconds.

In world championship finals, Harper Nelson took bronze in 2011 and took silver in 2017, again losing a close finish to Pearson in London’s Olympic Stadium.

Harper Nelson announced early in the 2018 season that she would retire at the end of the year. She knew she was pregnant for the last three races of the year and gave birth to her first child April 10.

FINALE: Harper Nelson reflects at final U.S. championships

But she had doubts all along about leaving the track.

“I wondered, would I miss it?” Harper Nelson told NBC Olympic Talk’s Nick Zaccardi. “Would I still want to do it? Then throughout my pregnancy, I still obviously had that pull. I trained during the whole nine months, but it was for two reasons. One was, it was literally the best I would feel all day, just with the changes in my body and stuff I was going through. The next one was if you just so happen to want to run, you cannot take nine months off. That’s just not an option. So I trained.”

She has remained available for drug testing through the year and talked about post-pregnancy competition with two-time Olympic shot put champion Valerie Adams of New Zealand, who was pregnant with her second child while Harper Nelson was pregnant.

But Harper Nelson was discouraged early on in her post-pregnancy training.

“That initial burst of speed to get off the line, it just was lacking,” Harper Nelson said. “I really had a moment where I sat down and kind of cried. I was thinking, do you ever really get that back? Is it possible? You’ve seen other ladies Nia (Ali), Allyson (Felix), Shelly-Ann (Fraser-Pryce), at world championships, they ran great. But you always find that moment, but is it different for me? Will my body not be the body that wants to come back? We slowly just gradually did things, resistance, mini plyos and gradually got myself back.”

She got encouragement, though, in speaking with her medical advisors: “My physio, he said, ‘Dawn, this is pretty much the best your body has felt in a long time because you allowed your body to rest.'”

Her husband, Alonzo Nelson, will be her coach while she trains on her high school track in East St. Louis, Ill.

Her comeback is likely only for one year: “I really do feel like this would probably be it because we want more kids.”

The competition in the 100m hurdles has only gotten stronger over the years. Harper Nelson’s fastest time of 2018 was 12.75 seconds, trailing 21 hurdlers internationally and seven U.S. athletes. Even when she took silver in the 2017 world championships, her season’s best of 12.63 seconds trailed six U.S. hurdlers. Kendra Harrison set the world record of 12.20 seconds in 2016.

Harper Nelson says she’s up for the challenge.

“In the 100m hurdles, we hold the definition of the hardest team to make,” Harper Nelson said. “From 2008 to now, it’s been different ladies that have lined up. The constant has been me and Sally [Pearson]. No one gives you anything. Everyone is out here hungry. It’s literally been the life that I’ve lived for the 12 years of my career. … All I’ve known is you put up or shut up. So I’m definitely OK with that. I really don’t want it any other way.”

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Track and field breakout stars dot Diamond League finals; TV, stream info

Shelby Houlihan, Mondo Duplantis
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If this week’s Diamond League finals fields show anything, it’s that 2018 has been the year of the breakthrough track and field athlete.

The world’s best gather in Zurich and Brussels, where Diamond League season champions will be crowned, live on NBCSN and Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold on Thursday and Friday.

Thursday: Zurich, 2-4 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold
Friday: Brussels, 2-4 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBC Sports Gold

Some of the most anticipated events are highlighted by athletes with no Olympic or world outdoor championships medals to their names: Norwegian wunderkind Jakob Ingebrigtsen and new American 5000m record holder Shelby Houlihan in the 1500m, U.S. sprint sensation Noah Lyles in the 200m, recent Louisiana high school graduate Mondo Duplantis of Sweden in the pole vault and the world’s fastest man this year — American Ronnie Baker.

Wednesday update: Ingebrigtsen withdrew from his Diamond League final with a sore throat, according to Norway’s track and field federation.

ZURICH START LISTS | BRUSSELS START LISTS

Here are 10 events to watch:

Women’s 800m — Thursday, 2:13 p.m. ET
Caster Semenya puts a near-three-year win streak against the next six fastest women in the world this year. That includes Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and American Ajeé Wilson, the world silver and bronze medalists. This will be the toughest field Semenya faces for at least eight months. This event could look very different by then with an IAAF rule limiting testosterone in female middle-distance runners scheduled to go into effect next season. Semenya is challenging it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Men’s 3000m Steeplechase — Thursday, 2:24 p.m. ET
Field includes the nine men who combine to own the 26 fastest times in the world this year. Kenyan Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world champion, has looked vulnerable in 2018 with three Diamond League defeats. American Evan Jager, the Olympic silver medalist and world bronze medalist, owns the second-fastest time of 2018. But he has never won against a field this strong.

Men’s 1500m — Thursday, 2:48 p.m. ET
The world’s seven fastest of 2018 are here, but focus on the top four. World leader Timothy Cheruiyot‘s only losses in the last 13 months came in arguably his three biggest meets — the 2017 World Championships and this year’s Commonwealth Games and African Championships. He finished second in each race to the same man — countryman Elijah Manangoi, who is second-fastest in the world this year. After the Kenyans are Norwegian brothers Filip Ingebrigtsen and Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the latter a 17-year-old who is the youngest sub-four-minute miler in history. He also just swept the 1500m and 5000m at the European Championships.

Men’s 200m — Thursday, 3:11 p.m. ET
Essentially a head-to-head between American Noah Lyles, the world’s best 200m runner post-Rio, and Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev, who won the 2017 World title in Lyles’ absence due to injury. Lyles, whose ebullience is most clearly expressed by his race socks, has won all of his outdoor 200m finals since finishing fourth at the Olympic Trials as an 18-year-old. His three fastest times came in his last three races: 19.69, 19.69 and 19.65. Guliyev just consolidated his shock world title by winning the European title in a personal-best 19.76.

Men’s Pole Vault — Friday, 1:28 p.m. ET
Three in the field have cleared 6.03 meters. Hasn’t happened since 2000. The man with the most excitement is recent Louisiana High School graduate Mondo Duplantis, who competes for Sweden, his mother’s native country. Duplantis just won the European title by clearing 6.05 meters. Only Sergey Bubka has vaulted higher outdoors in history. Also in this field: World-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France (record set indoors), world champion Sam Kendricks of the U.S. and Rio gold medalist Thiago Braz of Brazil.

Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — Friday, 2:11 p.m. ET
Deepest field between Zurich and Brussels? Ten women who combine to own the 28 fastest times this year. Americans Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs, who went a shocking one-two at the 2017 Worlds, take on Kenya’s best — Beatrice Chepkoech, Celliphine Chespol and Hyvin Kiyeng, who rank Nos. 1, 3 and 5 all-time.

Women’s 1500m — Friday, 2:41 p.m. ET
American Shelby Houlihan, the 2018 revelation of female distance running, takes on her toughest competition of an undefeated outdoor season. That includes Olympic and world medalist Jenny Simpson and the third-, fourth- and fifth-fastest women this year — Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan, Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay and Brit Laura Muir. Absent is world leader and world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba, whose only head-to-heads with Houlihan came at the world indoor championships in March.

Men’s Triple Jump — Friday, 2:47 p.m. ET
Christian Taylor, winner of the last two Olympics and last two worlds, has also been ranked No. 1 each of the previous three years. But Cuban-born Pedro Pablo Pichardo of Portugal owns the best triple jump of this year going into the Diamond League finals. Taylor won their last two head-to-heads in July but must leap a wind-legal 17.95 meters, which he hasn’t done since May 2017, to overtake Pichardo in the rankings.

Men’s 100m — Friday, 2:54 p.m. ET
Since the last Diamond League, American Ronnie Baker climbed to the top of the 2018 world rankings in the 100m (9.87 seconds). Baker, who grew up partially running cross-country in Alaska, has never won a U.S. or NCAA title or made an Olympic or world championships team outdoors. In Zurich, he takes on the more accomplished Christian Coleman, who at this time last year (and six months ago) was the clear favorite to succeed Usain Bolt long-term. Injuries hampered Coleman’s outdoor season, but he did beat Baker in their last head-to-head on July 13. The winner Friday could carry bragging rights into 2019.

Women’s 100m Hurdles — Friday, 3:15 p.m. ET
Rio gold medalist Brianna McNeal and world-record holder Kendra Harrison duel for the fifth time this season. Harrison owns the 3-1 edge and has the fastest time of 2018 (12.36). This will also be the last Diamond League race for the retiring Dawn Harper-Nelson, who earned Olympic gold in 2008 and silver in 2012.

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Tearful Dawn Harper-Nelson reflects at last USATF Outdoor Champs

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Dawn Harper-Nelson knew for months that these USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships would be her last. All that time to prepare could not keep the tears from flowing.

The 2008 Olympic champion and 2012 silver medalist in the 100m hurdles bid farewell in an emotional interview after placing fifth in Des Moines on Saturday.

“I’m really just blessed by my career,” Harper-Nelson told Lewis Johnson on NBC. “Everything’s just kind of coming at me, like, ooh, I didn’t do as good as I wanted [in the final]. But then, I’ve had such an amazing career. I can’t be upset about what God has given me, the talent. Then the field in the U.S. is just sick. Hearing people call my name, it’s like, I made an impact. And that’s really what you want in the sport. I’m blessed to be here.”

Harper-Nelson announced in April that she would retire after this season. She competed at nationals for the 14th and last time (has four U.S. titles) and will end her career with races in Europe later this summer.

She broke through in 2008, taking Olympic gold despite being third at trials and making the Olympic team by .007 of a second. She clocked personal bests in both of her Olympic finals, taking second in 2012 behind Australian Sally Pearson.

Though Harper-Nelson missed the 2016 Olympic team in perhaps the deepest event in U.S. track and field, she bounced back to earn a surprise silver at the 2017 Worlds.

“Honestly, I’m ready for some babies,” said Harper-Nelson, who married Alonzo Nelson five years ago.

She joked that she would have to be dragged off the blue Drake Stadium track and said one regret would have been never holding the world record. But her medal record and reputation as a consistent, big-event competitor were unmatched in her U.S. hurdling generation.

“I want them to say [10 years down the line] that when Dawn went to the line, my money’s on her,” Harper-Nelson told media in Des Moines. “They just knew that I was a fierce competitor. … I got the job done.”

VIDEO: Men’s hurdles final decided by .002

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