Track star Jones back for shot at hurdles medal
BY Sheldon mickles
August 06, 2012
A lot of things raced through Lolo Jones’ mind after missing out on an opportunity to have an Olympic gold medal placed around her neck on a summer evening in Beijing four years ago.
One of them was the words of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. … The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
That wasn’t what Dennis Shaver, Jones’ coach as a member of the LSU track team and her personal coach since completing her eligibility in 2004, was thinking after her run to immortality went terribly wrong in the blink of an eye.
After posting a personal-best time of 12.43 seconds in the semifinals of the 100-meter hurdles a day earlier, nearly two-tenths of a second faster than the next-fastest time, Jones was streaking to gold when her right foot crushed the top of the next-to-last hurdle.
Thrown out of her hurdles rhythm, competitors flashed by while she desperately tried to regain her balance and eventually wobbled to a seventh-place finish.
As Jones knelt on the track with her head buried in her hands, Shaver, who watched the race unfold on a giant video board at the warmup track a half-mile away, stood in stunned silence.
“I don’t think I said anything,” Shaver recalled. “Your heart just sank down into your stomach. There’s just not much to say at that point.
“Through eight hurdles there was no question about who was going to win the race. But the ninth hurdle snuck up on her, and that was the end of that.”
It was the end of that race, but not the end as far as Jones was concerned.
Battling back from an operation for a tethered spinal cord last August and two hamstring injuries this spring, the two-time world indoor hurdles champion will make another run at a medal in London next week.
The heats in the hurdles will be run Aug. 6, the day after Jones’ 30th birthday, with the semifinals and final on Aug. 7.
“When you’ve been there once, you’re like, ‘OK, I definitely need to have a medal,’ ” Jones said last week. “But it is a huge honor just being there.
“You realize you’re not only running for yourself, but you’re running for everybody who’s ever supported you back home. Or running for certain communities, so it is a huge honor. We think about that a lot.”
What Jones doesn’t think about is what went wrong in Beijing.
After talking openly about her disappointment for nearly four years, she turned her attention to this year’s Games when she qualified for the U.S. team with a third-place finish in the Olympic Trials in late June.
While she hasn’t been running as well this season, in large part because of the hamstring woes, Jones earned the right to try to redeem herself by placing third in the 100 hurdles final at the Trials.
“I’m just looking forward to another shot,” she said. “You know, it’s so hard to make another Olympic team, and I just really want to make sure I take full advantage of it.”
Her top time of 12.74 seconds this season ranks her just 20th in the world, but six of those spots belong to Americans who won’t be at the Olympics because they didn’t finish in the top three at the Trials.
While her time is more than three-tenths of a second slower than the world-leading time of 12.40 seconds put up by Australia’s Sally Pearson, no one has to tell Jones that anything can happen in an unpredictable event like the hurdles.
“A lot of people would probably bash me because I have so much pressure and hype or whatever,” she said of her finish at the Trials. “But it’s a ticket (to London), and third place is the same as first place.”
Giving her even more hope is the fact that the third-place finisher at the U.S. Trials in 2008, Dawn Harper, won the gold medal Jones had in her sights.
“Once you make the team, it’s a huge relief,” Jones said. “Then, you can really focus on what you need to focus on.”
After the Trials, Jones spent two weeks training in Europe. She raced in three events there before returning to Baton Rouge for one final week of training with Shaver.
Jones doesn’t mind going in as the underdog this time. She said she’s done well in major meets when she goes in ranked third or fifth rather than No. 1.
“I feel good. … I feel there’s still a lot of things I need to do in the races because I haven’t had a complete race,” she said. “But I think it’s a better position for me.”
Jones actually wasn’t running that well in 2008 before posting a time of 12.45 seconds at the U.S. Trials. After that, she continued rolling through the Olympic heats and semifinals when she blew away the competition to reach the final.
She was performing so well that Shaver was sure Jones was going to be wearing the gold medal that night.
“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “I was sure there was not anybody there that could beat her. But she could beat herself, and it happens because there’s such a fine line there. One little mistake can keep you from winning.”