Ex-LSU star seeks redemption in 100 hurdles at Olympic Trials
“All the effort and focus has been on making this team, But it’s a hard team to make. That’s why a lot of athletes and commentators call it the Olympics before the Olympics.” Lolo Jones, former LSU sprinter
For Lolo Jones, the U.S. Olympic Trials can’t come soon enough.
After 1,400 long days, what she hopes is the road to redemption finally begins Friday with her first-round race in the 100-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
Mercifully, Jones won’t have to wait much longer. While the trials will be held June 21-25 and June 28-July 1, the opening round of the 100 hurdles is set for Friday with the semifinals and finals Saturday.
“I won’t be just sitting around with the anxiety building,” she said.
A former LSU 11-time All-American and two-time world indoor hurdles champion who still lives and trains in Baton Rouge, Jones is clearly focused on earning a spot in the 100 hurdles for the U.S. team that will compete in the London Olympics later this summer.
She is one of 10 former LSU athletes and seven members of the 2012 teams expected to vie for spots on the U.S. team in the June 21-July 1 trials.
All eyes will be on Jones, however, as she attempts to make a return trip to the Olympics — where what would have been the finest moment of her athletic career was erased in an instant.
On Aug. 19, 2008, fresh off a personal-best time of 12.43 seconds in winning her semifinals heat at the Beijing Olympics, Jones was in front and cruising to the gold medal when her dream was shattered.
With the finish line in sight, her right foot landed on top of the next-to-last hurdle — a hurdler’s worst nightmare.
Thrown off balance, she staggered to a seventh-place finish and found herself leaning dejectedly against a wall instead of climbing to the top step of the medals stand.
The three-plus years since then have been no picnic, either, for Jones even though she won a second world title in the indoor 60-meter hurdles in 2010.
Hamstring injuries, including two this winter, and surgery for a tethered spinal cord in August 2011 have limited her training. But they’ve done nothing to suppress her desire for Olympic redemption.
On Tuesday, Jones declared herself 100 percent even though she’s had only a handful of outdoor races this season.
While her times have been nowhere near the 12.43 she ran in the semifinals at the ’08 Games with a season’s-best best of 12.75 at Oslo, Norway, last weekend, she and Shaver believe she can make the team.
“All the effort and focus has been on making this team,” said Jones, who turns 30 on Aug. 5. “But it’s a hard team to make. That’s why a lot of athletes and commentators call it the Olympics before the Olympics.
“There’s so much depth at this meet, nothing is guaranteed,” she added. “Someone’s going to be left off the team.”
Jones should know. She failed to make the USA team that competed in the 2009 World Championships because she was coming off a hamstring injury, but later ran the fastest time in the world that year at 12.47 seconds.
While her first hamstring injury near the end of the indoor season this year pushed back her outdoor training and competition schedule, Jones said she’s gotten enough races under her belt to feel confident going to the trials.
“My times are not where I’d like to see them, with a 12.75 here and there, but the same thing happened in 2009,” she said. “I just kept plugging away, and all of a sudden I had a good race. “I have a brilliant coach (Shaver) and I trust him when he says the times will come down and I will get it done,” Jones added. ”I just tell him to be honest. But he has closely analyzed my tapes and said he can’t see why it wouldn’t happen.”
Depending on the unpredictable conditions of Eugene, Shaver believes it will take a time in the 12.6 range to finish third — just as it did in 2008. He said that’s within Jones’ reach despite her recent hamstring problems.
Currently, Jones is tied for the eighth-fastest time among American women this year, but she and Shaver say those times don’t mean everything.
The third-fastest time — 12.65 seconds — has been posted by Dawn Harper, who won the Olympic gold after Jones’ misfortune in 2008.
“Lolo’s run 12.75 with a legal wind this year, but she knows she’s going to have to improve on that,” Shaver said. “She has the experience and is capable of improving on that.
“I think the field may be deeper than it was four years ago, but all she has to do is take it one round at a time and do her best to put herself in the final.”
The only thing that makes Shaver nervous is there are three rounds this year rather than four. That means the original field of 32 hurdlers will be cut to 18 for the semifinals instead of 24 — making the task a bit tougher.
“Lolo just has to get in a 12.60 hurdles rhythm,” he said. “She did that after getting hurt in 2009. She had a bunch of times in the 12.80-something range and then ran a 12.49. It was like overnight she got into a groove.
“The key is to run clean races and not beat yourself. I think she’s got an excellent chance to do that, and it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if she pulled it out.”