track and field

The unconscionable treatment of Lolo Jones

Clear your mind of any images. Now look at the following accomplishments:

– World indoor champion, 60-meter hurdles, 2008 and 2010

– World Athletics Final champion, 100-meter hurdles, 2008

– 4th place in 2012 Olympics

– 2nd place in 2010 Diamond League

– Leading 2008 Olympic final before tripping on a hurdle

– 6th place, 2007 World Championships

– Second-fastest time in the world in 2009

– Fastest time in the world (12.43, Olympic semifinal) in 2008. Since them, only three hurdlers have gone faster (Australia’s Sally Pearson five times, USA’s Brianna Rollins twice, USA’s Dawn Harper Nelson once). Rollins, the U.S. record-holder and current world champion, is just 23 years old and has a bright future.

– Sixteen international outdoor wins

The USA’s Queen Harrison, Danielle Carruthers and Kellie Wells have had some Diamond League success, which just underscores how tough it is to even make a U.S. Olympic team in this event. (Also why some people haven’t made it to the World Championships.) This person was the clear-cut No. 1 in 2008, then made it back in 2012 (after spinal surgery) and took fourth place behind Pearson, Harper Nelson and Wells.

Pearson and Harper Nelson also medaled in 2008 — flip the order with Harper Nelson winning and Pearson silver. They’re clearly the top two hurdlers of the past six years. Wells may be third — she took bronze in 2012 and was in good position for a major title (2011 World Championships) but stumbled.

So we could say the person in question was the best hurdler in the world in 2008 and still in the top four in 2012, an accomplishment after surgery.

Oh, by the way, she also won a World Championship gold medal in bobsled in the 2013 mixed team event, she made the U.S. Winter Olympic team in 2014, and she was named 2008 Visa Humanitarian of the Year after donating her prize money from the Olympic Trials to a single mother who was affected by flooding in Iowa.

OK, now you can put the picture back in your head. Obviously, we’re talking about Lolo Jones.

And that resume is considerably better than that of Danica Patrick or Anna Kournikova, two other athletes derided for being more famous than their accomplishments supposedly merit.

Patrick and Kournikova also take more flack than they deserve. We can debate Patrick’s GoDaddy ads or whether Kournikova put in the practice time to turn her potential into success in singles, but Patrick has the compelling story of a female driver carving out a space in a sport that has been rather harsh to women (you’ll never convince me Mike Wallace didn’t take out Shawna Robinson after she won the pole in a Grand National race), and Kournikova she still had a terrific doubles career.

Critics hate Lolo Jones because … she’s self-promoting? Not at the expense of anyone else. Because … she’s considered attractive? First of all, that hasn’t hurt a lot of male athletes. Second of all, shouldn’t we be happy that athletic women are lauded for their looks? Isn’t that a healthier body image than the emaciated figures who have dominated modeling and Hollywood for so long? As much as I cringe at the Alex Morgan fanboys who turn up at Portland’s road games and care nothing about the home team or any other players, at least they’re getting out of their parents’ basements, getting some fresh air and being pulled away from tweeting a bunch of misogynist crap about female athletes.

If you think Dawn Harper Nelson should get more attention than Lolo Jones, I have a novel suggestion. Write about Dawn Harper Nelson. She’s a two-time Olympic medalist who ran a personal best of 12.37 in London, second only to Pearson’s Olympic record of 12.35. Her coach is the legendary Bob Kersee. She’s remarkably consistent, winning the Diamond League season title in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

And she exists on social media. She has a solid Facebook presence with 1,514 likes. She’s also happy to be in an algebra textbook.

Bottom line: Track and field doesn’t get as much attention as it should. If someone actually manages to be noticed and gets on Dancing with the Stars, good for her. If you think it’s unfair that other athletes aren’t getting as much attention, do you think it helps those athletes when you snark on Lolo?

Lolo Jones is a world-class athlete with a charismatic personality. Dawn Harper-Nelson is the world’s most consistent hurdler who gets a kick out of being mentioned in an algebra textbook. No reason we can’t appreciate them both.

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