No medal in the race, but gold for Lolo Jones later
BEIJING -– When she failed to make the 2004 Olympic team after being eliminated in the semifinals at the U.S. trials, hurdler Lolo Jones came to a crossroads.
One way would take her toward a job that used her economics degree from LSU, which made more sense financially for a young woman whose family had struggled through poverty.
The other was to continue in track without the help of an apparel sponsor to defray her expenses. Jones, a former prep star in Des Moines, kept running, slowly got better and better, signed a nice deal with Asics and became the fastest hurdler in the world coming into the Olympics.
Less than 20 meters from an Olympic gold medal Tuesday, in a 100-meter high hurdles race she was commanding, Jones literally ran into another frustration.
This time, Jones is looking only at the same path she has been on, hoping it will take her to London for the 2012 Olympics.
"As a hurdler, you don’t normally peak until 28 to 33, and I'm 26,'' Jones said. "I definitely have another Olympics in me.
"You know, it's the hurdles. We're supposed to be the toughest ones. So I'm going to be tough and try again.''
Ironically, what happened may have been a case of Jones getting ahead of herself.
After a slow start, Jones began rolling so well she took an ever-increasing lead but the 33-inch hurdles began coming up on her too fast. She had lost control of her steps by the time she reached the ninth hurdle and smacked into it with her lead leg.
"I didn't have the best start but in the middle I caught everybody and I was catching my rhythm but everything was going too fast,'' she said.
"It's like when you're racing a car, and you're going as fast as you can, and you hit a curve, and either you crash and burn or you maintain control. I crashed and burned today.''
The barrier fell. Jones stumbled but stayed upright as her rivals flew past, leaving her seventh at the finish.
It was then she fell to her knees, clenched her fists in anger as she struggled to comprehend what had happened and finally covered her face with her hands.
"I was shocked. My mind was numb,'' she said. "I worked so hard for this, and it disappeared in less than a second.
"All I could think of was just getting back on my two feet and standing strong.''
Jones did that as she passed through the media interview area, talking for several minutes with a large group of reporters, graciously stopping again to speak with a few others who could not get close enough to hear her.
Her eyes were moist, but she made no excuses, had no complaints, simply explained her misfortune by getting to the essence of the event.
"It's the hurdles,'' she repeated. "If you can't get over all 10, you can't be the champion.''
A champion is the class of the field.
No one in these Olympics has shown any more class than Lolo Jones.
-- Philip Hersh
Top photo: Lolo Jones after stumbling in the women's 100-meter hurdles. Credit: Christophe Simon / AFP / Getty Images
Inset: Lolo Jones as she left the track. Olivier Morin / AFP / Getty Images