Harper grabs gold after teammate Jones hits penultimate hurdle

BEIJING -- Dawn Harper of the United States won the women's 100-meter hurdles at the Beijing Olympics.

Harper won in a personal-best 12.54 seconds Tuesday after U.S. teammate Lolo Jones, who had a clear lead, was knocked off-balance when she hit the next-to-last hurdle.

Jones had taken the lead and seemed to be pulling away when she hooked her right foot on the ninth hurdle and broke her stride, falling from first to seventh. The late blunder opened the door for Harper to win the U.S. track team's third gold medal of the Games.

Australia's Sally McLennan got the silver medal in a photo finish; both she and Canada's Priscilla Lopes-Schliep crossed in 12.64, but when the time was extended to thousandths of a second, it showed McLennan was faster.

Jones, the world indoor champion who had the season-leading time going into the final, finished seventh in 12.72.

"It was like racing a car at max velocity. When you hit a curve, you either maintain control or you crash and burn," Jones said. "Today, I crashed and burned. I'm shocked and sad. But I'm happy for the girls."

While Harper did a victory lap carrying the American flag, Jones kneeled on the track, her face to the ground in stunned disbelief -- a marked contrast from the starting blocks, where she could be seen mouthing "I can win this race" when she was introduced.

Instead, she'll be remembered along with Gail Devers, who was winning at the Barcelona Games in 1992 but crashed on the final hurdle and finished fifth.

"I kind of felt like she was me for a minute there," Devers said. "It's heartbreaking, because I saw her face afterward. I know the feeling. I know how she felt."

Jones was the kid who lived in a church basement, worked at a hardware store and as a waitress to pay bills as an adult and was looking to cap her classic American comeback story with a gold in Beijing.

The story was going to form until she struck the ninth hurdle, then stumbled toward the finish. Her eyes opened wide when she hit that hurdle -- yes, that really happened -- and then, after she crossed the finish line, she thrust her fists to her sides, fell to the track, removed her sunglasses and glared up at the scoreboard in disbelief.

"You hit a hurdle about twice a year where it affects your race," Jones said. "It's just a shame that it happened on the biggest race of my life."

Harper grew up in East St. Louis, was a member of the UCLA track team and is coached by Bob Kersee, who added another Olympic champion to his long list. She grabbed the last spot on the American team at the Olympic trials by 0.007 second.

"I kept saying, 'What? What?' I was hoping no one could read my lips," Harper said of her victory lap around the track. "I couldn't believe I was holding the flag and getting a medal. It was amazing."

"This is a kid nobody knew," Kersee said. "Now she's an Olympic gold medalist. It's breathtaking."