Had Kellie Wells not torn a hamstring crossing the finish line in the semifinals of the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials, she very likely would have qualified for Beijing as one of the favorites to win a medal in the 100-meter hurdles.
Instead, she had to wait four long years to achieve her life-long dream of running in the Olympics.
Wells finally made that dream a reality last month when she finished second to defending Olympic champion Dawn Harper in the finals of the U.S. Olympic trials. The 30-year-old Wells spoke to Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday about her goals for London, her relationship with fellow hurdler Lolo Jones and her recent revelation that she was abused by her stepfather as a teenager.
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JE: You beat a pretty strong field at a Diamond League meet in London on Saturday including world champion Sally Pearson. How much confidence does that give you going into the Olympics?
KW: It's always good to come by a win because it's really hard to do that in the hurdles. There's so many talented girls and you never know what could happen. To beat such a large field like that and to run such consistent times back-to-back, especially just getting off the plane into Europe, I was ecstatic.
JE: Was it important for you psychologically to beat Sally since she's certainly one of the Olympic favorites if not the favorite?
KW: The finish line doesn't know any favorites. If you watch any major competition, you never know what's going to happen. That's what makes the hurdles so exciting. I guess she's considered the favorite, but I didn't go there to race Sally. I just went there to execute the things we've been working on in practice and to make my coach proud. It just worked out well that day.
JE: Grantland ran an article this week that portrayed you, Dawn Harper and Lolo Jones as more rivals than friends. How would you describe your relationship with your fellow U.S. competitors in the 100-meter hurdles?
KW: It's funny. I haven't read the article. I try to stay away from that kind of stuff because it's draining. But I heard about it. I tell people all the time, 'It's just track. It's not really real life. You can't take it too seriously.' I guess they kind of have to make a story so it seems interesting. Of course we're all rivals because we all want to win a gold medal. In the final, they'll be eight lanes and there are only three medals. But I'm really laid back. I know the media loves Lolo and that's great because if they're watching Lolo, they're watching me run. And I'm doing my job very well right now.
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KW: Yes, it was so heartbreaking because I'd never been hurt before then. I had no idea what a hamstring pull felt like. It was such a mixed emotion. I looked up and I saw 12.58 and at the same time my hamstring went. I didn't really have time to enjoy my 12.58, and it was just depressing because I couldn't run for about a year and a half after that. And if you can't do what you love, it's really, really hard. But looking back on it, I wasn't mature enough to be able to handle the situations I'm faced with now. I'm really excited about 2012 and where it's going to take me.
JE: How much inspiration did you take from that setback? Did it help motivate you leading up to the trials this year?
KW: I just turned 30 two or three days ago, so I know my window of opportunity is closing. I had to get it done now because the next one I'll be 34 and who knows what will be going on at 34. This has been my dream my entire life. Since I can remember, I've wanted to go to the Olympics, so I knew I couldn't play around and I had to get it done.
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JE: Describe the satisfaction of finishing second at the trials and making the Olympic team for the first time. I assume that was one of the most special moments of your career?
KW: It was. It was like, 'Thank you, it's over. Now we know I'm going to the Olympics.' My family has been asking, 'Are you going to London? Are you going to the Olympics?' In my mind I was always like, 'Yes, of course I'm going.' But I couldn't answer that truthfully because I didn't know. So now to be able to say I'm going to London and that I'm an Olympian, it's such a pleasure.
JE: Two years ago, you wrote a blog post that revealed for the first time that you were sexually abused by your stepfather at age 16. Why share that publicly at that time?
KW: I was dealing with not running and then I just wasn't happy and I couldn't figure out why. Relationships weren't how they were supposed to be, friendships weren't how they were supposed to be. I just couldn't get it. But I took a long, long look at myself and Mother's Day came around, and I was just compelled to share it. I didn't want anybody to have to take the path I took. I ended up in a really good place, but I think it was also because I had good people around me to guide me along the way. A lot of people don't have that support system. There are a lot of pitfalls I could have taken and not ended up going to college or with a good career. All that kind of stuff.
JE: Looking back, are you happy you made that public? And what did you gain from doing so?
KW: I'm really happy. I always say I feel like if someone had tried to help my mom, and gotten through to her about what relationships are supposed to be like, love is supposed to be like and how a man is supposed to treat a woman, maybe it could have been different. I don't know because that's hindsight, but I feel if I share my story, I can save somebody going through the mistakes that I made and the wrong turns that I did make before I got to this place.
JE: Is there a target time you're looking to run that you think it will take to contend for a gold medal? 12.30? 12.40? Faster?
KW: I was talking about this earlier with my training partners. I said, 'I don't care what time I run as long as I'm in the front.' We never know what the conditions are going to be in London. Windy? Cold? We just have no idea. For all we know it could be 80 degrees and birds chirping, so you never know. So whatever time it takes to win, that's what I want to run.
JE: One last question for you. Have you allowed yourself to envision what it would be like to medal or to win gold?
KW: I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it. My mind goes there. But it's like winning on Saturday. I can't assume I'm a favorite. There are going to be many girls who are going to have to battle to get to the final and then fight to get to the line. So I think about it. I've always thought about it. But it's mainly more about staying focused and knowing I still have a long, hard journey in front of me. If I've gone hard before, I even have to go harder up until the Games.
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