USA Track and Field announced today that former K-State All-American and Olympic Gold Medalist Kenny Harrison was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame as a member of the 40th overall class. Harrison is the first K-State Track and Field athlete to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
For Harrison, the induction is the final piece of validation in his long and successful career as a competitor. The K-State great said the honor is something that ranks above all the medals and titles he’s accumulated in his career.
“[The induction] is phenomenal for me,” Harrison said. “It’s something you don’t expect, but it is super positive and puts the icing on the cake for my track and field career.
“I have never been a person about awards or things of that nature. It’s never been a personal thing I needed to do, but this is a little a bit more personal and it is something that is really, really valuable to me, moreso than anything I’ve done in my career.”
The former Wildcat letterman was an 11-time NCAA All-American during his time at K-State from 1984-88. Competing primarily in jumps, Harrison won NCAA indoor titles in the long jump in 1986 and the triple jump in 1988. He also won the NCAA outdoor triple jump crown in 1986 as well as being a three-time runner up in the NCAA Championships. Along with numerous accolades on the national stage, Harrison was a 15-time Big 8 Champion and still holds the school records in the indoor and outdoor long jump and outdoor triple jump.
Following his K-State career, Harrison experienced plenty of success on the international stage. In 1990, he was awarded the Jim Thorpe Award, given each year to the United States’ best male athlete in the field event/decathlon category. Competing for the United States in the 1991 World Track and Field Championships in Tokyo, Harrison won gold in the triple jump. His crowning achievement came at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, where he won gold in the triple jump, setting both a U.S. and Olympic record in the process with a jump of 18.09m (59-4.25).
Harrison said his time at K-State was invaluable to having further success following the conclusion of his collegiate career.
“Kansas State is number one on my list of everything,” Harrison said. “It shaped and formed me in so many different ways especially in track and field. Just the confidence I created, we created, while at Kansas State. The environment really breeds that kind of success in moving forward and being successful. I think that is the biggest deal.”
Off the track, Harrison said the family-like atmosphere of the university was a crucial component as well.
“I love Kansas State because it is more family-oriented and they’re very supportive,” Harrison said. “That’s what you need at the very highest level of track and field, to have a good support group. Kansas State provided that for me while I was there.”
Coach Cliff Rovelto didn’t coach Harrison personally, but remembers him fondly from his time at University of Kansas as well as his first year here as an assistant coach in 1988. Rovelto said two things, in particular, stood out to him about Harrison: talent and hard work.
“I don’t think a lot of people appreciate the range of abilities that [Harrison] did have,” Rovelto said. “People know him as the triple jumper, American record holder and Olympic champion, of course, but he also was a really, really fine long jumper [in his time at K-State]. He ran 4x100s and was as fast as anybody on the team and routinely split 45 seconds on 4x400s.
“Kenny trained primarily towards jumping, not like the couple of guys we have on the team now that train for both. They have to do what they have to do in training to be able to sprint, or jump, the way they do. Kenny didn’t necessarily need to do that.”
Rovelto recalled Harrison’s toughness and hard work being exemplified by his ability to compete through injury.
“[Kenny] was obviously very physically talented, innately talented if you will, but he worked very, very hard,” Rovelto said. “The end of his four years here showed numerous cases of wear and tear in his legs that made evident just how hard he worked.
“And all throughout his collegiate career, he didn’t miss much training, any competitions or anything because of injury. He was competing, training everyday on injuries where today those kids are being shutdown and doing nothing. [Kenny] was a tough guy and a really hard worker.”
Along with Harrison, four other all-time track and field greats were inducted. The 40th class will be honored on Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Jesse Owens Hall of Fame Banquet, which is part of the USATF Annual Meeting at the J.W. Marriott in Indianapolis.