ST. LOUIS — East St. Louis native Dawn Harper-Nelson was looking for her third trip to the Olympic Games this year. She had come out of retirement after having a baby girl and made it to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. She didn't qualify, but she knows what it's like to compete on the highest stage and provided insight to Rene Knott on Today in St. Louis as mental health continues to be a topic in Tokyo.
Rene Knott: "I want to talk about Simone Biles and the pressure that is on the Olympic athlete. When you heard that she had dropped out of the team competition, what was your initial reaction?"
Dawn Harper-Nelson: "I said that it's actually very understandable. As athletes, we feel like we have to turn ourselves into machines because we understand that you represent yourself, your family, your community, and your country. And with that, you just feel like 'I don't have any time for myself. Like now it is all about representation, the hard work that I put in.' So the pressure that she has to be under actually is immense because think about it, you go into any grocery store or any store and you're going to see her face. To understand for an Olympic athlete, when you enter the Olympics, Olympic Village, you're like 'I do not matter. It is all about what I can do for my country and for my people."
RK: "When you look at the fact that families are not allowed in Tokyo because of COVID-19, and we know how much of a support system that her family is, could that have had an effect on her as well?"
DHN: "Absolutely. When that has been taken away from your norm, as much as you want when you get to the Olympics you try and create the same atmosphere that you've had for all of your competitions. And to not have family and to hear their voices in the stands, like for me I think about this year I didn't have my mother's special call that she does for me in the stands and it was noticeable. And so to actually think when you're at the Olympics you're family is so far away to send a message before and to know that they support you but you can't feel their energy it has to make a difference."
RK: "Let's talk about the U.S. Track & Field Team that gets started later today in Tokyo. Sha'Carri Richardson not there for the 100m for the women. How much of a blow is that for Team U.S.A.?"
DHN: "I mean if we're just going to be honest it is a blow. I mean she's a 10.6 competitor and that was definitely going to be something that would be on the podium. But I do understand that the ladies that got 4th through 8th, we've also selected some amazing young ladies that will come in to represent us. The thing is about the Olympics it's all about rising to the occasion and U.S. has shown time and time again that we're capable, and these young ladies understand what they have on their back when they get there."
RK: "I want to talk about your event right now, the 100m hurdles. Of course, you went to the trials this year and unfortunately weren't able to make the team. But you had a world record holder in the event, Keni Harrison, are we looking at a gold medal here?"
DHN: "You know what, I think so. I think that she understands, over the years she said that she herself has had mental issues when she's lined up. She knew she was ready to perform but mentally there was just something she needed to overcome and she said she got help with that and since then she's kind of been on a tear and I think that her lining up at the Olympics, she's been to championships before. She knows there's a big task ahead of her with Camacho from the other country that's gonna be there, but I think that she understands when that gun goes off all bets are off but she's capable."
RK: "Now one of the best stories of the games, at least in my view, is Allyson Felix. She's in her 5th Olympics, she's also a new mom just like you. Just talk about her legacy."
DHN: "Her legacy it's just great. When you think of this is her 5th Olympic team. I mean there's only a handful of people in the world that can actually say that. And then for her to come back as a mother to say that 'I define my journey.' She still had that desire to go and compete. She put everything in place to make this the 5th Olympic team to make history, and when she lines up everything she's gonna do, every step is going to be history. And it's so beautiful the post that she made about having to leave her daughter, but understanding that she's doing this for her and you know for other moms and just that representation is going to be amazing to see her cross that line and hopefully on the podium."