She is the first Hampton University athlete to medal in the Olympics.
Australia's Sally Pearson, who was the favorite entering Tuesday's final, claiming the gold medal with a wire-to-wire win in 12.35 seconds, an Olympic record.
"I had a long wait for this but it was definitely worth every day of it," Wells said. "I've had my great moments; I've had some tough times, too. It's made me a better athlete and a better person. An Olympic medal caps it all."
She doesn't quite have the actual bronze medal in her possession yet — the medal ceremony is Wednesday — but she had kind words for her home state.
"Hello, Virginia. ... Thanks for helping me get here."
Wells' run of tough luck began in 2008 when she was carried out of Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., with a ruptured tendon in her right hamstring at the Olympic Trials.
Her run of tough luck continued at the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea. After qualifying impressively in 12.79, she was on pace to win a medal in the final — until she clipped the sixth hurdle, ran into the seventh, and bowed out of the race as she saw medals go to Pearson (12.28), and Americans Danielle Carruthers and Harper (both at 12.47).
Wells' fortunes turned in 2012.
She used meets in Florida, Italy, Belgium, South Korea and Qatar as warm-ups for the USA Olympic Trials in late June in Eugene, where she erased memories of the 2008 trials disaster with a 12.77 second-place performance, just behind Harper's 12.73.
Tuesday's Olympic semifinals were the perfect prep for the medal final two hours later. Pearson led the way in her semi at 12.39; Harper took her semi in a personal-best 12.46 and Wells impressed, taking the third semi in 12.51, her best this year and just 1/100th shy of her best-ever 12.50.
Wells ran 3/100ths faster in the medal-round race.
Harper and Pearson went gone 1-2 at Beijing in 2008, but reversed places this time around. Harper and Wells ran their personal bests, and Jones' time was her fastest this year.
"A gold medal, that's been a dream of mine for 12 years," Pearson said. "Ever since I saw Cathy Freeman take gold (in the 400) at Sydney (in 2000)."
Pearson's next goal will be a little easier. "I just want to have a cheeseburger," she said.
Jones (who tumbled to seventh place after leading over nine hurdles in Beijing) found it hard to keep her post-race composure,
"I hit the first four hurdles," she said. "I still ran my season's best time, but obviously I am crushed.