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Olympic stumble psyches hurdler Lolo Jones up, not out

February 25, 2009 | 11:59 am

Lolo Jones after the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

The Olympic memory stings Lolo Jones now as much as it did then, when it brought the 26-year-old to her hands and knees and left her in tears on the Bird's Nest track after a stumble at the next-to-last high hurdle cost her the gold medal she had been running away with.

Jones still can't bear to watch a replay of the race, but she continues to handle the frustration with the same good nature and grace ("You have to get over all 10 or you're not meant to be champion,'' Jones said immediately after the race) that prompted this letter to the Los Angeles Times last August:

It was so very painful for Lolo Jones and her family and fans when she hit the hurdle while leading the women's 100-meter hurdles. The irony is that had she not faltered, America might have seen her celebrate, but we would never have been treated to the depth of character and genuine decency that she displayed in the face of her personal agony. Ms. Jones is a very special young woman; that's far more important than any medal. -- Kip Dellinger, West Los Angeles

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, as she prepares to defend her U.S. indoor title in the 60-meter hurdles in Boston this weekend, Jones was able to make light of a mishap that undoubtedly has brought her more attention than a gold medal would have among U.S. fans whom NBC force-fed, ad nauseam, a diet of Michael Phelps, gymnastics and beach volleyball.

"I don't think people would remember my name as much if I would have won,'' Jones said, with realism rather than rancor. "Everyone can relate to not getting something they wanted so badly and worked so hard for, whether they are an athlete or working 9-to-5.''

As it has been with so much else in a life of turmoil and rootlessness, a life when her one goal was to "to get out of poverty,'' Jones sees her Olympic fall as just another hurdle to overcome.

"I always have flashbacks from the Olympics,'' she said.  "[Since then], it became therapeutic to me every time I could just drain energy in practice.''

And then, just to make sure no one over-dramatized her words, Jones laughed and added, "Instead of paying for a psychiatrist, I would just go to practice and have a session -- for free.''

It was some consolation that Track & Field News ranked her the world's No. 1 hurdler for 2008, when she won the U.S. Olympic trials, ran the world's two fastest times outdoors (the fastest, 12.43, came in the Olympic semis) and became world indoor champion. She enjoyed hearing herself introduced as No. 1 this winter in Europe, where she has won four or five meets and run the three fastest times in the world.

"I would hear someone being called bronze medalist from Beijing or Olympic champion in Beijing and wondered what they would say about me,'' she said.

Beijing. It won't go away.

"Every race helps, but I'm still getting over it,'' she said.  "I will use it as motivation for the next four years.''

-- Philip Hersh