Two hurdlers who grew up in North Carolina competed in an Olympic Games final Sunday in Tokyo, but it was another hurdler with some Carolina ties of her own who won the gold medal.
First-time Olympians Keni Harrison of Clayton and Gabbi Cunningham of Charlotte both made the 8-person final of the women’s 100 hurdles Sunday night, running only two lanes apart from each other in the biggest race of their lives.
Harrison finished second and Cunningham seventh, but they were each surpassed by Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, the younger sister of former UNC standout football player Robert Quinn.
Camacho-Quinn, who grew up in South Carolina but is running for Puerto Rico because that is her mother’s homeland, ran the 100 hurdles in 12.37 seconds to win the gold. Harrison won silver in 12.52 seconds, out-leaning Jamaica’s Megan Tapper, who earned the bronze (12.55). Cunningham finished in 13.01.
Meanwhile, in the women’s 400 hurdles, Charlotte hurdler Anna Cockrell has qualified for the Olympic final Tuesday night, which will be run at approximately 10:30 pm (Eastern time). Cockrell, who ran for Charlotte’s Providence Day in high school, was the fifth-fastest hurdler in the Olympic semifinals on Monday in 54.17 seconds.
Of the four hurdlers who ran faster semifinal times in the 400, two were Cockrell’s teammates: Americans Sydney McLaughlin (first) and Dalilah Muhammad (second). So, with three hurdlers in the final, an American sweep in the event is technically possible.
Cockrell is the sister of NFL defensive back Ross Cockrell, who once played for the Panthers and won a Super Bowl ring last season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers watched Anna Cockrell’s Olympic semifinal as a team Monday morning and posted a video with Ross Cockrell’s exuberant reaction. The video later made Cockrell respond via Twitter from Tokyo: Y’ALL GOT ME CRYING IN THE VILLAGE DINING HALL.”
CB Ross Cockrell watching his sister, Anna, advance to the Olympic finals with his teammates & coaches pic.twitter.com/pReaPhj4pB
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) August 2, 2021
Later on Monday, Ross Cockrell picked off three passes at Tampa Bay’s football practice, which drew some nationwide notice of its own. Tweeted Anna Cockrell after reading about her brother’s three interceptions: “Wow, really making me share the spotlight today! Just kidding I love this and him.”
Wow really making me share the spotlight today just kidding I love this and him he better DO IT https://t.co/Mu9FqIbghk
— Anna Cockrell, MPP (@AnnaCockrell48) August 2, 2021
Harrison grew up in Clayton, N.C., about 20 miles southeast of Raleigh, where she was a track star for the Clayton Comets. She surprisingly didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team in 2016, but then set the world record in the event that same year at a meet in London, where she ran a 12.20. That world record still stands, as Camacho-Quinn threatened it but didn’t break it over the weekend. In college, Harrison ran for both Clemson and, later, Kentucky.
In her TV interview with NBC after the event, Harrison said: “It was just so fun coming out here and just getting a medal for my country..... Just to get a silver medal at this stage is amazing.”
Harrison also mentioned in her national TV interview that she was adopted and thanked her family for supporting her. “To be adopted, and to be raised in such a big family, and for my siblings to see the journey I’ve been doing — I hope I made them proud,” Harrison said.
Camacho-Quinn’s brother is former UNC football pass-rushing standout Robert Quinn, a 31-year-old defensive end who now plays for the Chicago Bears. They both grew up in the Charleston, S.C., area. In the Olympic semifinals, Camacho-Quinn broke the Olympic record, running a sizzling 12.26 in the semifinals (0.11 seconds faster than she went in the final) to qualify first among the final eight.
Cunningham’s world ranking in the 100 hurdles was a modest 25th entering the Olympics, so qualifying for the top-8 final was quite an achievement for the former Mallard Creek and N.C. State star. She was the lowest-ranked hurdler to make the final.
Cunningham didn’t originally qualify for the Summer Games at the Olympic Trials, but second-place finisher Brianna McNeil was allowed to race at the Trials only because she was appealing her five-year “tampering with the results management process” anti-doping suspension.
Cunningham finished fourth in the Trials, but she was moved to third when McNeil’s suspension was upheld. She and Harrison were the only two American hurdlers to make the final, as Team USA’s Christina Clemons was knocked out earlier in the event.
Harrison came into the final with a much better chance at a medal among the two N.C. hurdlers. She was ranked No. 2 in the world in the event, held the world record and, at 28, has far more international experience than the 23-year-old Cunningham.
These are also the first Olympics for Cockrell, who starred in college at Southern Cal. Her father, Kieth Cockrell, was recently named the president of Bank of America Charlotte.