By Conor Hockett  |  BSU at the Games

At the Beijing Olympics, hurdler Dawn Harper was the self-proclaimed baby of the U.S. team at 24 years old. She was in her first Olympic Games and wasn’t followed by the flash of a camera or crazed Americans hoping for an autograph as she hung out with family and flew under the radar.

Then she ran the race.

In just 12.54 seconds, Harper managed to turn every head and lens her direction as she won a gold medal in the 100m hurdles.

Now 28 and at her second Olympic Games in London, Harper isn’t fooling anybody. The pressure of being a marked woman is finally catching up to her.

“It didn’t quite hit me until two days ago the real pressure that there was [on me],” Harper said. “Because you have to make the team, then, all the sudden, can you do it again? Now that it (the pressure) has hit me, I just try to think about things like, stay in your lane. Stay focused. I tell myself repeatedly, you’ve done the 100 hurdles a million times. The only thing that’s going to change is just how I see it.”

The women’s final is Tuesday, and Harper isn’t letting anyone into her mental zone. When a reporter questioned Harper about Sally Pearson, the Australian 2011 World Champion, she was quick to say everything is in her control.

“I know that my training is there and I know that I’m ready,” Harper said. “I refuse to go to this race and just not execute. That’s the only time I would be really disappointed in myself—if I let it (the moment) get to me.”

For fellow teammate and hurdler Jason Richardson, the moment is very similar to Harper’s in 2008.

Despite winning the 2011 World Outdoor gold medal, Richardson doesn’t have the pressure to perform draped over him like a wet blanket. He is calm and well spoken—relaxed enough to rattle of most of his iPod’s playlist at Tuesday’s press conference.

Richardson finished second in the Olympic Trials behind teammate Aries Merritt in the 110m hurdles. Merritt is the reigning US Indoor Champion and World Indoor Champion in the 60m hurdles. That means most of the tough questions and expectations fall off Richardson’s shoulders.

It is a role Richardson relishes. His 2011 world title was won under similar circumstances and, like Harper back in 2008, Richardson doesn’t see any reason why the Olympic crown can’t go to someone who’s face isn’t plastered on a billboard.

“For myself, I acknowledge and am completely in tune with reality that you have (in the race) a current world record holder, a former world record holder and another American (Merritt) who is about to tag 12.9 because he’s running so much,” Richardson said. “I’m again, much like last year, just the guy who’s going to come in here and try and pull off another upset. I definitely like it (the underdog role). It’s comfy, it’s familiar and it’s just another thing that will add to some great twitter content once the race is over.”

Conor Hockett is a junior journalism major at Ball State University covering sports for BSU at the Games. Follow Conor and the BSU team at @bsuatthegames and www.facebook.com/bsuatthegames.