Lolo Jones says she just wants the media firestorm to 'die down'
Since the London Olympics kicked off, Lolo Jones has been the subject of criticism
The criticism has clearly affected her, but she's not looking to fan the flames
She wishes her teammates, who won silver, bronze, would receive more attention
LONDON -- The tweets had come streaming in, one after another after another. Usually, when the mentions of Lolo Jones on Twitter are coming in by the dozen, the 30-year-old hurdler knows she has done or said something, probably something significant. Usually, she knows what it is. But Saturday, she hadn't even run her first race at the Olympic Games. Her birthday was still a couple days off. So the steady deluge of mentions, which she says she tries to read as often as possible, came as a bit of a surprise. What they said or alluded to were equally surprising.
The buzz surrounding this particular Twitter flurry spawned from a New York Times piece, headlined: "For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image." The article, a sort of news-based opinion, lamented Jones' relative popularity despite never having won an Olympic medal and suggested she actively tries to be whatever sponsors or media want her to be in an attempt to seek attention and stay relevant. It took shots at her, both athletically and morally.
This was not what she needed to see two days before she was supposed to line up in the blocks. Jones forced herself not to click on the links to the article, shut her computer down and tried to ignore the distraction.
"Whatever it was, I knew it was really bad because my Twitter [account] was blowing up about this article," Jones told SI.com Thursday afternoon, two days after she finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles, narrowly missing a medal for the second straight Games. "My confidence is already low. I've already struggled all year fighting doubt and fear that if I clicked on that link and saw that before I ran, I did not know what damage it would do before my race. ... But I knew it was there obviously."
It wasn't until the event was run and her fourth-place fate sealed that she took a look -- sort of. "I didn't click on the actual link," she said. "I didn't want to give their website a hit or a read from my computer, so I looked at others -- like Deadspin broke up pieces of the article. I just didn't want to give [The New York Times] the validation of a click from my computer."
The morning after the race, still clearly devastated, she appeared on the Today show and expressed emotionally (though, she did not cry, she is quick to point out) her feelings about the Times story. "They just ripped me to shreds," she told Savannah Guthrie, her voice quavering. "I just thought that that was crazy because I worked six days a week, every day, for four years for a 12-second race and the fact that they just tore me apart, is heartbreaking."
A day later, she told SI.com: "My voice was definitely shaking and I could not control that. I was trying to, but I couldn't. And that wasn't even from just the [last] two days. It's been balled up for the whole year. Everybody had been saying things like that about me."
The Times story was just the latest and most direct example of a sentiment that's been around track circles for the last couple of years. Jones, coming off of surgery and two hamstring tears, has admittedly not run well this year. She was having trouble clearing 12.70 seconds -- "It's a time that I ran in college," she said -- and her confidence took a beating as she just barely made the team. Still, her face was all over Olympic ads; she landed the cover of Time even though she was not expected to contend in London.
"I mean, I get it," she said. "There are a lot of people frustrated that I have so much attention even though I don't have a medal. I absolutely get that. But I just think that the attack is going in the wrong place."
While Jones was on Today, her teammates, and silver and bronze medalists, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells were being interviewed by Michelle Beadle in another studio. Though they did not explicitly say anything negative about Jones, their comportment seemed to suggest otherwise. They seemed to relish just a little too much the fact that Jones was not on the podium and seemed bitter that they had not received the attention Olympic medalists deserve. When Beadle asked if there was any in-fighting amongst the team, Wells, explicitly asked about Jones, replied: "On the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot, and that got their medals and worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed, and that's all that really needs to be said."
Jones heard about that interview late last night and admitted she was hurt. "I think it would hurt anyone's feelings. I don't think I'm an exception," she said. "I just wish that they would get the media attention that they want to get and that they can be proud of their accomplishments. Honestly."
Whether or not that's how Jones honestly feels, she knows that no good would come of any response otherwise. The NBC interview with Harper and Wells seems to have done their images more damage than Jones'. And for her part, Jones won't fan the flames of controversy. "I just want it to die down," she said.
Minutes after Tuesday night's race, after she saw her name light up fourth, she came into the tunnel, devastated once again. She had watched as Harper and Wells were handed American flags, which they draped around their shoulders as they took their victory laps around Olympic Stadium. It's when the flags come out, she says, that it really begins to hurt. For the last four years, she's wanted to wrap herself in that flag, run the track with the Stars and Stripes fluttering behind her.
For Lolo Jones, everything was in that image.