Simply known as “Ken” to his multitude of followers, Harnden was one of the finest 400m hurdlers in the world in the 90’s. He counts the NCAA gold in 400m hurdles, World championship finalist twice and bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia in 1998, as well as a silver medallist at the All Africa Games in 1999, among his numerous medals.
Harnden, together with Tawanda Chiwira, Savieri Ngindi and Philip Mukomana also set a Zimbabwean record of 3:00.79 minutes during the heats in the 4x400m at the 1997 World Championships in Greece.
Though having such an impressing medal haul, the two-time Olympian never laid his hands on an Olympic medal and he feels that Sydney 2000 offered him the biggest opportunity, had it not been for fate that ruled otherwise.
“As an athlete I wanted to win a medal at the Olympics. I felt that Sydney 2000 was going to be my year but I ruptured my Achilles’ tendon earlier that season. That was the end of the road,” he said.
Then only 27, Harnden was forced to quit the track without having realised his long-time dream of winning an Olympic medal, but he has never regretted the decision as he is thriving in coaching.
“As an athlete, I was the NCAA champion in the 400m hurdles in 1995, two times a World Championships finalist, and a Commonwealth Games bronze medalist. That (injury in 2000) ended my career, but it opened the door to coaching so I cannot complain.
“Since I took up coaching, I have graduated 98% of the athletes I have coached. I have coached 17 Olympians, and over 100 All Americans,” he said.
Harnden, who has been coaching sprints at Florida State University for the past eight years, has done very well and is a highly respected coach having coached a number of champions, among them Walter Dix and closer home Brian Dzingai.
He also recruited Brian Chiduku, Paul Madzivire and Laura Gerber.
The 38-year-old also helped Dzingai break the Zimbabwe national record in 200m and to meet the Olympic “A” qualifying standard time, to secure a trip to Athens to represent his country.
Dix and Dzingai made Harnden proud when they both reached the 200m final in Athens at the 2008 Olympic Games with the former winning bronze while the latter came fourth.
Ken Harnden, a former Peterhouse High schoolboy, has not gone unnoticed at the regional and national levels in the United States. He has earned two NCAA Division I National Assistant Coach of the Year awards for the sprint group after first collecting the award in 2005. He also picked up the same honour in the East Region.
His next target is to see his new recruit, Ngonidzashe Makusha, winning a medal at the London Olympic Games next year having seen his other prodigy Dzingai missing out on the podium by a centimetre at the 2008 Games, where he finished fourth.
“Ngoni has worked very hard for this and is very talented. He also wants to learn and grow as an athlete and will always be successful.
“I first met him in 2007 and I knew he would go far, he has the fire in his eyes and a heart like a lion. We call him ‘The Lion of Africa’.”
“In London there will be a lot of contenders and in the long jump, Britons Greg Rutherford and Chris Tomlinson will be at home and therefore present a major threat.”
“There is also Irving Saladino from Panama, Mitchell Watt from Australia and of course the Americans.
“In the 100m it’s Bolt, Powell, Blake and Dix (Ngoni’s former team mate at Florida State),” said Harnden.
Makusha recently recorded an astounding 9,89 seconds and 8,40m in 100m and long jump respectively to win gold at the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) at Iowa in the US.
The feat saw Makusha becoming one of the only four athletes to win the double (100m & Long Jump) at the NCAA with the three others being DeHart Hubbard (1925), Jesse Owens (1935 and 1936) and Carl Lewis in 1981.
Harnden believes hard work and his family’s rich history in sport remains his inspiration.
“My family is full of great athletes — my uncle Gary was the former Zimbabwe record holder in the 110m hurdles until my brother Iain broke it.
“Iain was also part of the 2000 Olympic squad. My mother’s brother Frank Youngleson also played rugby for Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe),” he said.
Such is Kenneth Harnden, the man they have simply come to know as Ken.