Sometimes a unique combination of factors come together to create extraordinary Olympic champions. More often than not the person with the most successful and consistent track record will get the gold. At other times, it can be just down to luck or the ability to turn in an extraordinary performance on the night that decides who goes home with the medals.
Such was the case with Dawn Harper at the Olympic Games in Beijing and it made for heartbreak for her American team-mate Lolo Jones.
Jones was a red-hot favourite for the 100m hurdles in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium. Blessed with supermodel looks and blistering pace, Jones had looked set to extend America’s formidable Olympic record in sprint hurdling.
However, form counts for nothing if it can’t be applied in the field of battle.
Jones had won the world indoor title in Valencia earlier in 2008 in Spain, and surged through her heat in Beijing with supreme confidence.
In the semi-finals she oozed class as she won in a personal best time of 12.43secs, almost two tenths of a second, or around a yard and half, faster than any of her main rivals.
Two other Americans were also in contention for the medals; Harper, who had compiled a respectable collegiate career, and Damu Cherry.
The three recorded the fastest times in the semi-finals and were expected to figure in the medals, but as it turned out they won just one.
As the crowd hushed for the final on another sultry night in Beijing, Australian Sally McLellan was quickest out of the blocks but it wasn’t long before Jones was tearing past her.
The American was absolutely flying when she clipped the penultimate hurdle, completely ruining her momentum and stride pattern.
The crowd gasped as Jones managed to stay on her feet as Harper and much of the field swept past her. Harper crossed the line first with a disbelieving McLellan in silver. Cherry finished fourth.
Far from evoking memories of the American sprinting greats, Jones brought to mind the heartbreaking failure of Gail Devers to win gold at Barcelona in 1992 when she clattered the final hurdle and crashed to the ground with the finishing line in sight.
Jones was a picture of disappointment as she pondered her performance, but the record books will show that Harper was fastest on the day, when it mattered most.
As ever - Memories of Gail Devers