Lolo Jones Finishes Fourth In The Olympics. So Did She Deserve To Be Heard?

A news article criticized Jones' pre-Games behavior. But Olympians must grab the spotlight.

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Al Tielemans / Sports Illustrated

Lolo Jones competes in the Women's 100m hurdles semifinals at the Summer Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium in London on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

Lolo Jones and Olympic heartbreak are now the very best of friends. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while sprinting to a gold medal, Jones clipped the penultimate hurdle, and fell into seventh place. This year, she fought injuries to crawl her way onto the Olympic team, and into the 100-meter hurdles final. She got off to a fast start in Tuesday night’s race at the Olympic stadium, and ran clean: Jones cleared every hurdle. But this time, she finished just one spot from the podium, in fourth, .10 seconds behind fellow American Kellie Wells. Australia’s Sally Pearson, the dominant hurdler throughout the year, won gold, running an Olympic record 12.35 seconds, followed by the 2008 gold medalist, Dawn Harper of the U.S., who finished in 12.37 seconds.

Jones ran a 12.58, her best time of the season. She has no reason to hang her head. Still, after the race, she seemed close to breaking down. “I’m crushed,” says Jones. “Every time I come here I get burned.” Jones refused to blame her injuries, which included a tethered spinal cord last summer, and a sore hamstring in the spring. “I’m really disappointed in myself,” says Jones. “I feel like I let a lot of people down … I guess all the people that were talking about me can have their night and laugh.”

Coming into these Olympics, Jones was probably the most well-known, and actively followed, U.S. track and field athlete. But did Jones deserve all that attention? After all, as the outdoor season began this spring, it became pretty obvious that Jones was far from a gold medal contender. She was on the cover of several magazines – including TIME – the subject of an ESPN documentary and national television interviews, and a Tonight Show guest after she finished third in the U.S. track and field trials. Third? Why wasn’t Harper, an ebullient, engaging personality, or Wells on Leno’s couch after that race? After all, they are “better” than Jones, right?

Jones is a test case: why are some athletes mainstream stars, despite lacking the traditional credentials of mass appeal — like medals — while other, more accomplished jocks walk down the street unrecognized? A New York Times article that ran on August 5, and received a fair amount of attention among the legion of Lolo watchers, said that Jones mounted a “sad and cynical marketing campaign” before the Olympics to capture the public’s attention.  In 2009, Jones posed nude – along with many other athletes, mind you – for ESPN The Magazine’s annual “Body” issue. She admitted that she was a virgin, and has been open about her rough childhood: for example Jones’ father, who was in and out of prison, taught her how to shoplift. At one point, Jones and her family lived in the basement of a Salvation Army Church in Des Moines.  Jones, says the Times, “decided she will be whatever she wants to be – vixen, virgin, victim – to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses … If there is a box to check off, Jones has checked it. Except for the small part of actually achieving success as an Olympic hurdler.”

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What’s even more “cynical and sad” than any Jones marketing effort, however, is the suggestion that an athlete must win an Olympic medal to deserve attention. What, being one of the top three hurdlers in the country isn’t worthy of recognition? Never mind that Jones, in 2008, won the U.S. trials and was headed for gold until she clipped the ninth hurdle. Or that she won the 2010 indoor world championship. And that she returned from spinal cord surgery last August to make this year’s team. She’s an Olympian. If we can’t make a fuss about Jones, we can’t make a fuss about any Olympic athlete who has never stood on a podium? In other words, we can’t talk about most of them?

“And too often,” the Times writes, “the news media plays right along with her.” As someone who wrote a 3,500-word story about Jones before the Games, I must have really gotten used. I can’t speak for other organizations, but can only give an honest accounting of our experience with Jones. Her press rep contacted us at the end of last year. This is standard operating procedure: every Olympic year, PR agents for dozens of Olympic athletes pitch journalists. These athletes only see the spotlight every four years. They jockey for publicity, which helps increase their endorsement opportunities. For some athletes, this income supplements their often meager athletic earnings. It’s an open market. From what I could gather, Jones wasn’t being cynical. She was being smart.

We were drawn to her unique experience. Jones’ gaffe cost her a gold in Beijing: how does an athlete cope with such failure, when she has to wait four years for another shot? We saw Jones as a vehicle to tell a broader story about the psychology of choking, and did just that. And sure, her good looks, and charisma, were part of her appeal.

Was she so open about her heartbreaks, and sex life, because she’s a naturally honest person? Or because she wanted more media attention? Only Jones knows this for sure. I don’t think it’s in Jones’ nature to hold anything back. But she’s not naïve. She knows she’s good copy, and that the attention benefits her. But in the end, her strategy is almost irrelevant. People were drawn to her story. What’s wrong with anyone telling it?

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36 comments
Bruce Groh
Bruce Groh

Lo Lo Jones is an athlete and allways will be. No one 's personal life should be made into a circus. It's that - personal!  The media has its' fun, we all know that. Lo Lo has been and allways will be a figure in competition history. You don't have to win medals

to be appreciated and loved by many.

PhillyJimi
PhillyJimi

It is ONLY about Lolo's good looks.  Nothing more.  If she was ugly no one would know or remember her.  The media made her and she embraced the media.   When she failed to win gold, well the valid criticism if fair.  No one is immune from Michael Jordan to Tiger.  It is the price of fame. 

Mark Mays
Mark Mays

There's a difference between "deserving attention" and deserving accolades. I think the author conflates the two. Jones is a very good athlete with a compelling story and is attractive to many. That's generally enough for an athlete to get her face in the magazines even if she doesn't "win," as the poster with marketing experience confirms. Now, does she deserve the same accolades that should be afforded those who do "win?" That's the concern I think. Does the attention paid her convert into undue accolades? Do PR fueled puff pieces make the public think you're covering Jones because she's the best or because she's compelling . . . and sells magazines?

paul
paul

Lolo jones is a bum. Put winners on the cover next time, k? Okay

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

In the comparative scheme of things, none of this Olympic stuff is very important. That's the truth left out of the article.

Rubleaux
Rubleaux

I enjoyed reading the piece. I saw the inspirational ESPN story and it was touched by her story.  I watched her race tonight and was truly proud of her effort.  I hope that she keeps chasing her dream of winning an Olympic medal and let the detractors do what they do best, run their mouths.

jtgidget
jtgidget

Lolo Jones clipped the ninth hurdle at the 2008 Games because of her poor hurdling techinique, simple as that. It wasn't "tragic" or "unlucky" or any other word you care to describe the fall then. She just isn't that good a hurdler, not compared to Wells or Harper and certainly not compared to Pearson. Just watch Pearson run her races. She is practically flawless over and between the hurdles. That is why she is a silver and gold Olympic medallist and Jones is not.

Kimgerly
Kimgerly

I understand there was a physical explanation to her clipping the 9th hurdle. If her technique was poor, it was due to the fact that her sensory faculties in her feet were compromised. This condition was related to her spinal condition--this was one reason for her surgery. 

And if she were such a poor hurdler, how is it that she has achieved World Record Holder status indoors? You're assertion here is bunk. I have watched her since 2008...The fact that she even made the Olympic team, and finishing fourth in the finals is a HUGE accomplishment, because of all the injuries she has had to overcome this past year. I'm SURE if she would have been completely healthy, she would have given Sally Pearson, Dawn Harper and Kelli Wells cause for more concern in the finals. What she accomplished in even finishing fourth was by no means a small feat. 

notpccrrect
notpccrrect

AND  what place did you come in Mr. Expert?  She holds a indoor record, do you? She made it back too the olympics what lane was you in? another winner of the keyboard olympics!

Chris Houston
Chris Houston

Lolo keep doing your thing. Forget the haters!! You have inspired me because of your Christian values and hardwork. You are already a winner in my book.

dwain001
dwain001

I think it is really funny that before the race they were praising her and she was somewhat Americas darling.. Now that she did not medal she is the lowest of the low. The media is such a hypocrite playground. I waant to see all those media writers get off their asses and jump a damn hurdle.. They make me sick

Katy
Katy

I think the medalists should get their due. I mean, what's Sally Pearson's story? Or Dawn Harper or Kellie Wells? Have their lives been a picnic? I don't know and I'm not going to hold my breath waiting to find out. The US media has a habit of picking a few favorites and then they become the story as opposed to the sport/competition being the story. Being American I didn't even realize this myself until I saw Olympic coverage from another country. It was very different. At any rate, Pearson, Harper and Wells have the medals and their names will go into the record books. I'm not cynical enough to believe they'd trade that for a magazine cover.

Aaron68
Aaron68

...and that's why without Lolo Jones, nobody would ever care about the sport they have enjoyed success in.  Lolo Jones is the face of their sport and a great ambassador for women's hurdles.   Harper and Wells are great atheletes, but they can't carry their sport like Lolo Jones does.

robl2248
robl2248

Only in America. If you watch coverage from any other country. There would be very little mention of Lolo Jones because Sally Pearson is the worldwide face of the 100m Hurdles not Lolo Jones

RustyJones
RustyJones

I disagree - next to none of the attention Jones' brought "the sport" filtered down to Harper or Wells.  How do you even know if they have a story as compelling as Jones'?  Or is this a race thing: that a dark-skinned women athlete, however fit and attractive, won't get the cover shots that Jones can?   Indeed, as far as "the face of the sport," you could argue Jones has moved the public image of the sport closer to volleyball.  Besides, nobody is saying that Jones didn't deserve a good deal of coverage, just not the "oxygen-sucking" amount that excluded others.

R Gayle Young
R Gayle Young

 Exactly. If it had not been for Lolo' s publicity a lot of people would not have cared about Dawn and Kellie or what there lives have been like. Lolo did nothing wrong, nor did the media. She brought attention to the  Women's 100m. I am proud of all of them, but 4th place does not take anything from Lolo's accomplishments - it just adds to the back story.

Richard Xiong
Richard Xiong

I hope somehow this can be heard: Lolo, I really admire your spirit and your strength to push through all these difficulties to be where you are now! I think life is about taking challenges and accepting the results. The goal, as you are running through the hurdle, is to reach the final destination, the finish line. Many have dreamed to do what you do, others have tried and failed, you have been successful, and blessed with this incredible talent! I'd like to lift you up for who  you are, not what you represent! Other people might have different opinions and ideas form about you, or they would, as you stated, "have a night and laugh" about you... you know what, the truth is, they don't really appreciate the hard work that has been put into produce what you have produced, they don't really understand that life is about preserver through all and stay faithful to your stands and believes. Most importantly, THEY ARE JUST NOISES. The true voice is the victory you have already gain, and your glory is head of you when you preserver yet another hurdle of your life! If I may, as a humble sports enthusiastic, share a quote, "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing... Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" - Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 16-18

Guest
Guest

nytimes sunk really low with that low blow on lolo. 

DSM_Proud
DSM_Proud

I'm from Des Moines, and we attended the same high school (I'm MUCH older). But she is a winner, medal or not. She faced a hard childhood and fought back to succeed in life. You can't hate her because she's beautiful, passionate, and an excellent athlete. Go LoLo--Des Moines loves you!

James Forbes
James Forbes

Wow! Your writers are so much better than Yahoo.  I almost stoped reading online articles. Liked this

RustyJones
RustyJones

 You answered your own question: you cost Kellie Wells and others space by your decision to give it to Jones - attention is a finite resource.

R Gayle Young
R Gayle Young

Sean, this is the best best story I have read on Lolo  before and since the race. Good job! Thanks for being honest and fair. Lolo has done nothing wrong. There is always going to be someone who hates you, she just needs to keep her head up. She has nothing to be a shamed off. There are lots of women out here who are Lolo Strong!

Daniel Crouch
Daniel Crouch

Yes!  I totally agree with you... this is the best story I have read on Lolo before and since the race too.

Laura Wilkens
Laura Wilkens

I'm from her neighborhood, and she is a genuine, honest, open person. They call that "Iowa nice." She is the real deal, and I am proud of her for being an Olympian, a first class athlete and person, for her grit, her smile, her humanity..........her lovely outlook on life and the world. You did her well in this story. 

HoneyBoom
HoneyBoom

see what I mean, if you are not nice people will tell about it. Ms. Jones is a first class athlete and owes no apology. If you did your best, that is all we ask.  

Jonathan Gann
Jonathan Gann

She wasnt nice when she shot a BP commercial in Baton Rouge earlier this year.

Laura Wilkens
Laura Wilkens

I'm from her neighborhood, she is a genuine, honest, open person. They call that "Iowa nice." She is the real deal, and I am proud of her for being an Olympian, a first class athlete and person, for her grit, her smile, her humanity..........her lovely outlook on life and the world. You did her well in this story. 

Ozgood
Ozgood

Lolo Jones is elite, point blank period. Lebron James never won a championship until last season and he was all over TV.

R Gayle Young
R Gayle Young

 ... nobody complained about Lebron James but folks hate Lolo because she has a great back story. So, who wants to sign up for homelessness, poverty, shop lifting food, a daddy in and out of jail? I know there are folks waiting for that opportunity somewhere. Who could pass that up?

ricky212
ricky212

her talent on the track can't even compare to Lebron's talent on the court. Since when was individual 100m hurdles a TEAM sport? Sorry you lost me there. I'm sure Lebron needed a team to win his first chip whereas Lolo's quest for gold rested in her own hands

Dowloading
Dowloading

Yea Lolo Jones IS elite, but this is her last olympic game ;(

HBarry
HBarry

Nice piece. I have followed Lolo Jones since her tragic fall in 2008. If

you want to see inspiration one need only see how she handled that. Class all

the way, in several interviews, even congratulating Dawn Harper and others as

they danced. True class. It was hers to win. She was clearly the best hurdler

that year and in that race, that fact seems to be forgotten.  If this was 2008, she’d be in the mix with top

three. But she has had surgery and injuries, her times have fallen and she is no longer the

best hurdler in the world. 4th place is really a success story. Dawn Harper is a great hurdler but she was given a

gift in 2008 (I know know, part of hurdling is not hitting hurdles, but they

all do every 20 races or so, Lo Lo Jones just hit one at an inopportune time).  I can admittedly do without all of the talk of being virgin

but even that was due to media hype. That fact was out there long before, there was

no calculated effort by her, it clearly became huge story as Olympics

approached.  Give her a break.  

bk_inAZ
bk_inAZ

All the proofreaders have died.  Sean haz did sum good artikelz Bee4

Chris Kent
Chris Kent

An editor needs to read this article.  

"Jones is a test case: why do are some athletes mainstream stars.."  Really?

Lauren Benedetti
Lauren Benedetti

Thank you for writing an actual educated piece about Lolo Jones..  We slander people so easily, we hate people who are given opportunities and take them with both hands. I'm in marketing and surely we aren't all deluded in the fact that she makes a great story. The fact is she is a people person, a talker and a fighter. She tells her story passionately and what sells her is that passion, the other athletes should not hate on her as it's the media who picks up her persona and uses it to their advantage. They know she sells not just because of her looks, which obviously does help. Lolo is a testament of what hard work can achieve. Well done on her Olympic journey so far...

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