Track and field athlete Lolo Jones poses for a portrait during the USOC Portrait Shoot at Smashbox West Hollywood on November 17, 2011 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images for USOC)

Hurdler out to put Beijing ‘crash and burn’ behind her

By Phil Minshull, Special to Universal Sports

Not even an Olympic gold medal this summer will erase the image that the public-at-large have had of Lolo Jones for the past four years but it will exorcise a few personal ghosts.

The charismatic Jones was leading the 100m hurdles final in Beijing by a clear margin, going over the barriers crisply and cleanly until the she clipped the penultimate of the 10 obstacles to be negotiated.

From being well on the way to having the Star Spangled Banner played in her honor, she stumbled through the final few meters of the race, finishing seventh. Victory instead went to her team mate Dawn Harper.

After crossing the line Jones briefly slumped to the track with her head in her hands, left to contemplate what might have been, before dusting herself off and holding her head high.

Jones’ dignified reaction after having what she calls ‘crashed and burned’ in Beijing has endeared her to track fans around the world.

“There were actually so many great things that happened from that race. Yes, I didn’t get an Olympic gold medal but I’m still treated like an Olympic champion. I walked away [from Beijing] with the respect from a lot of people, which is worth more than any amount of money.

“I have always said, even before the Olympics, I am always inspired by my defeats. I’ve been working so hard since the end of last season, I think I learned a lot from hitting that hurdle in Beijing,” Jones told Universal Sports after a recent race in Düsseldorf.

It easy to think of Jones as loser just because of that one race but she has also proved repeatedly that she is a winner, both on-and-off the track.

She got gold medals at the 2008 and 2010 World Indoor Championships but perhaps her greatest victory was just getting to the starting line as an elite athlete.

Born in Des Moines, Jones lead a nomadic existence during her early years. Her father spent much of her childhood in jail, leaving her mother to try to hold down two jobs in order to feed Jones. At one point, Jones and her siblings lived in the basement of a church but she still managed to earn a scholarship to Louisiana State University.

Jones now faces another barrier, metaphorically as big as that ninth hurdle in Beijing, if she is to have a chance of redemption in London.

Just making the U.S. team will be a tough task. Only three women per country qualify for the Olympic Games and there were three U.S. 100m hurdlers faster than Jones last year as well as another three who were less than one-tenth of a second behind her 2011 best of 12.67.

“The level of the other girls is definitely higher, you’ve got tons of girls running really fast, it’s super-competitive in the hurdles right now, both in the U.S. And globally,” admitted Jones. “But I’m certainly in there with a good chance.”