Kendra Harrison (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Update - June 14, 2015: Harrison won the NCAA 100m hurdles and claimed Silver in the 400m hurdles on Saturday.
Kendra Harrison isn't just a world-class hurdler. She's a "hurdles nerd."
Those are the words of her coach, Edrick Floreal, who uses the term affectionately.
After all, he coached her to the NCAA 60-meter hurdles Championship indoors in March, the 100m hurdles title this weekend and the two now have their sights trained on historic goals in the coming weeks and months.
For his part, Floreal is a world-class hurdles coach. He guided Amaechi Morton to the 2012 NCAA 400m hurdles Title, he recruited and worked with Kori Carter --!the 2013 NCAA Champion and now one of the world's top 400m hurdlers -- and he once coached LaVonna Martin: the 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist. Now his wife.
Said accomplishments barely scratch the surface of Floreal's achievements. And while his credentials when it comes to coaching hurdles are tough to match, Harrison could become his greatest pupil yet.
She added some evidence to support the argument this past weekend as she led UK to a school-record NCAA Runner-up team finish on Saturday. Harrison won the short hurdles -- completing an undefeated NCAA season indoors and out in short hurdles race -- and claimed the Silver Medal in the 400m hurdles with a historically fast time.
Floreal describes her as a nerd for the hurdles because her hunger to better understand her craft is unmatched in his experience.
"Keni (Harrison's nickname) is sort of a 'nerd' in the hurdles," Floreal said. "Most athletes just want to hurdle and get it over with, but she's interested in the science of it. Learning and asking a lot of questions.
"Sometimes as a coach you find athletes who are like-minded. Keni wants to get into the science of hurdling. She's constantly asking me to teach her not just how to hurdle, but how to maneuver the hurdles. How to deal with all the variables that come up in an already complicated endeavor.
"I get a lot of texts late at night from her asking about things like the position of her trail leg. That's not the typical behavior of a 18-to-22-year-old, even among athletes, but it speaks to Keni's commitment to her craft."
The duo has been working together for two seasons, after Harrison spent the first two years of her college career at Clemson. There, she trained with reigning 100-meter hurdles World Champion and collegiate-record holder Brianna Rollins.
Harrison was plenty decorated as a Tiger, but she's reached stratospheric heights since becoming a Wildcat.
"Coach Flo and I just have a special connection," Harrison said. "We have a similar demeanor. He's a quiet man and I'm sort of the same. We view the sport through a similar lens.
"He knows what I'm thinking and we work well together. We spend a lot of time watching film and talking about hurdling as well as actual training on the track."
A multi-time All-American at Clemson, since arriving in Lexington before the 2013-14 season she's won an NCAA title, five Southeastern Conference Championships and become the third-fastest hurdler in NCAA history in both the 60-meter hurdles and 100-meter hurdles.
Floreal and Harrison worked on a change in attitude at the start of this season, which along with her unique family background was expertly chronicled by the Herald-Leader's Mark Story
earlier this spring.
But a similarly important, albeit unexpected, milestone in Harrison's development was a preseason injury last winter. She did not compete in 2015 until the SEC Championships, where she opened with the collegiate-leading time en route to repeating as the Conference 60-meter hurdles champion.
"She couldn't train for almost two months while her hamstring healed and she improved her flexibility," Floreal said. "We decided 'if you can't run over hurdles, you're going to watch a ton of film so you can understand the event better.'
"When she did come back it was like a light had gone off. She had to break down everything she knew to uncover a level she never thought she could reach."
The results indicate that the break from training was important. Her immersion in studying hurdling -- while not actually practicing -- allowed her to exploit what Floreal might lovingly call her "nerd tendencies."
But the way Harrison has hurdled in 2015, she might better be referred to as amazing or something similar.
Harrison is the world's second-fastest woman (the top-ranked amateur) in the 100-meter hurdles this season, ahead of decorated professionals like her former training partner Rollins. Those two will likely compete against one another -- and a loaded field of world-class American hurdlers -- for a place on the World Championships team later in June, but for now Harrison in focused on an attempt at NCAA history.
But off a second straight NCAA Silver in the 400m hurdles, Harrison isn't lacking for motivation as she now sets her sights on the United States Championships and World Championships Trials later this month.
With a new NCAA Championships schedule aimed at enhancing excitement for the television audience, Harrison proved she's a gamer. With just 35 minutes to rest between her win in the 100-meter hurdles and the start of the 400-meter hurdles, she ran a PR in the long hurdles -- considered by many to be track and field's most excruciating event.
Only Virginia Tech's Queen Harrison has won the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles at the same NCAA Championships (2010).
"I don't think people realize how tough that is," Floreal said. "In the history of track one woman has one woman has won both and she had four days to do it. Kendra came within a couple tenths of a second of winning both with 35 minutes rest."
Harrison has indicated she will pick one event to run at the USA Championships, although she's open to running both in the future.
"When I'm fresh who knows what will happen?," she said. "Going into USAs I'm going to pick one event so my focus is going to be sharp."