The women’s 100-meter hurdles boasts one of the strongest fields in this year’s U.S. Olympic track and field trials.
It also includes not one but two former Virginia Tech stars — and both have a realistic shot of reaching the Rio Games.
“Hopefully two Hokies going to Rio — that would be quite a headline,” Queen Harrison said in a phone interview.
Harrison and her former Tech teammate Kristi Castlin are among the top seven seeds out of 32 competitors in the 100 hurdles. The trials begin Friday in Eugene, Oregon. The top three finishers in each event will earn berths in the Summer Games.
Harrison, who made the Beijing Olympics in the 400 hurdles in 2008 as a 19-year-old, is seeded third in the 100 hurdles at this year’s trials with her time of 12.52 seconds.
“I’ve solidified my place as one of the best in the world,” Harrison said. “There’s nobody who’s a shoo-in [for a Rio berth], but if I was to put money on anybody, I’d put money on myself.”
Castlin is seeded seventh with her time of 12.62 seconds. Like Harrison, Castlin will be competing in her third Olympic trials.
“This is the first year I’m actually going into a U.S. championship with no injuries, no dings,” Castlin said in a phone interview. “And then just my overall experience and confidence levels are at a high.”
The field also includes Kendra Harrison, the U.S. record holder in the event at 12.24 seconds; second-seeded Dawn Harper, a two-time Olympic medalist; and fourth-seeded Brianna Rollins, the 2013 world champ.
“Everyone always jokes about how … there’s something about America, that we breed great 100-meter hurdlers,” Queen Harrison said with a laugh. “It makes it that much more thrilling.”
The first round will be held July 7, with the semifinals and final set for July 8.
Harrison advanced to the semis in both the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles at the 2012 trials but did not make the final in either. She said she had suffered quadricep and ankle injuries a few months before those trials.
“Sitting out for so many weeks and being injured, I was only able to put maybe a B-plus game out there,” Harrison said. “That won’t be an issue this year, Lord willing. I’m staying healthy, … and a healthy Queen is a winning Queen.”
Harrison won three NCAA titles as a Virginia Tech senior in 2010, winning the 60-meter hurdles at the indoor meet and becoming the first woman to sweep the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles at the outdoor championships.
Castlin concluded her Hokies career in 2010 as a seven-time All-American.
“Our circle of friends at Virginia Tech was me, her, [current Seattle Seahawks star] Kam Chancellor, [current Buffalo Bills quarterback] Tyrod Taylor — a lot of us are very successful,” Castlin said. “We grinded, we sacrificed and now we’ve made it.”
After the 2012 trials, Harrison dropped the 400 hurdles to focus on the 100 hurdles.
“Once you get to the professional realm, there are girls that are training 24-7, 365 for the 100 hurdles and 24-7, 365 for the 400 hurdles,” Harrison said. “I was a bit ambitious to do both of them at the same time. … I’ve been to the Olympics in the 400 hurdles. Now it’s my turn to do it in the 100 hurdles.”
In 2013, Harrison took second in the 100 hurdles at the USA outdoor championships and fifth at the world championships. She was second at the USA outdoor championships in 2014 and fourth last summer. Also last summer, she won gold at the Pan American Games.
Harrison has a sponsorship deal with the Japanese company ASICS. She used to train at Cal State Northridge under former Hokies assistant Lawrence Johnson, who is now on the staff at that school. But she moved to Phoenix in November to train under a different coach.
Castlin said she recently concluded a contract with Nike and is now talking with companies about a new deal. In April, she moved from Atlanta so she could train under Johnson at Northridge.
Castlin won the 60-meter hurdles at the 2012 USA indoor championships.
At the 2012 trials, she made the semis in the 100 hurdles but did not reach the final.
“It’s definitely been a chip on my shoulder,” Castlin said of those trials. “It’s something I’m going to be remembering and thinking of when I’m in the finals.”
Castlin took sixth in the 100 hurdles at the 2013 USA outdoor championships. In 2014, she won at the Drake Relays to snap Rollins’ 19-race winning streak.
Castlin, 27, took second at this year’s Drake Relays and won at a meet in Guadeloupe.
“Every race that I’ve competed in [this year] has been a rehearsal for Eugene,” Castlin said.
Harrison, also 27, has won at meets in Switzerland, France and Atlanta this year.
“[Age] 27 is that first year when … talent and experience meet each other,” Harrison said. “I’m buckling up for the ride these next couple years of what my body can do.”