TOKYO — Five years ago, Keni Harrison mustered a smile as disappointment welled in her eyes. "I don't know what happened," she said.
She had arrived at the 2016 U.S. Olympic track and field trials as the prohibitive favorite in the 100-meter hurdles, not just to win the event but also potentially take gold in Rio. Instead, she had finished sixth – shocked, heartbroken and off the team entirely.
For the next 1,851 days, the disappointment of that moment fueled Harrison. And on Monday, she finally got redemption. The 28-year-old won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics with a time of 12.52 seconds, narrowly defeating Jamaica's Megan Tapper, who won bronze, and finishing behind only Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico, who took gold.
The other American competitor in the field, Gabbi Cunningham, came in seventh.
"I think missing out in Rio, it's always in the back of my head when I'm training," Harrison said. "That's what continues to make me work hard – just remembering that moment of getting sixth at the U.S. trials.
"So just picking myself back up and just going after it, just building my confidence back up – to get a silver medal to bring home to my country, I couldn't be happier."
Harrison was born in Tennessee and adopted as an infant. Her parents, Karon and Gary, have 11 children, nine of whom are adopted – including two from Bolivia and two of Korean heritage.
The middle child of the family, Harrison started out as a soccer player before shifting her focus to track. She ran collegiately for the University of Kentucky and won a pair of national championships as a senior, then stuck around the following year as a volunteer assistant coach while training for Rio.
That's when she first got to know Camacho-Quinn, who was a freshman on the team. They trained together regularly and shared the same coach.
"I think we brought the best out of each other," Harrison said. "I knew she wanted to beat me, I wanted to beat her. So it brought this nice competitive edge."
Camacho-Quinn, who has now run the five fastest times in the world this year, said her time training with Harrison almost helped put her at ease in Monday's final. It brought back memories of their training sessions in Lexington.
"It honestly calmed me down in the blocks," said Camacho-Quinn, whose brother, Robert, plays in the NFL. "I think with that experience we had together, that brought us to this point. We both know what it look."
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) August 2, 2021
After missing out on the Olympic team in 2016, Harrison proceeded to set a new world record of 12.20 seconds at a Diamond League event the following month. Meanwhile, the U.S. women went on to sweep the medal spots in Rio, led by Brianna Rollins-McNeal.
Harrison said the disappointment of the 2016 trials motivated her, but never prompted her to doubt her ability.
"I don't think it was shocking that I came here and am able to get a medal," she said. "It's just one of those things when you dream about (it) every single night. I knew that I was definitely capable."
Naturally, Harrison would have preferred to be gold. But as she spoke with reporters Monday, an American flag draped over her shoulders, she seemed both happy and relieved.
"The goal is always the gold," Harrison said. "But for right now, I'm satisfied."
Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Keni Harrison wins silver in 100m hurdles at Tokyo Games