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The Olympians: Lolo Jones

August 20, 2008
by Liz Colville
Hurdler Lolo Jones’s atypical upbringing and passionate approach to the sport makes her story worth sharing.

Lolo’s Road

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Lolo Jones was born Lori Jones on August 25, 1982 in Des Moines, Iowa, one of six children raised by her hard-working mother and namesake, Lori; her father spent much of her childhood in jail. Living in the basement of a church for a time, the Joneses eventually relocated without Lolo, whose passion for track and field led her to stay in Des Moines, where she attended high school, ran on the team  and lived with foster families. Of French, African-American, Native American and Norwegian descent, Jones’s sparkling eyes and model-like figure have contributed to her poster child status, helping her earn unique sponsorship deals as well as mainstream ones with prominent companies like Oakley and Asics.

Setting the Iowa state record in the 100-meter hurdles in high school, Lolo was a Gatorade Midwest Athlete of the Year and moved on easily to Louisiana State University, where she was a three-time national champion and 11-time All-American, bringing “impressive foot speed” to the sprint hurdle events. By attending a big sports school like LSU, preeminent in track and field, Jones was poised for even bigger things than the NCAA elite arena.

Lolo Turns Heads

“[U]ntil you're a national champion, that’s when you start to turn heads,” Jones told The Boston Globe recently, recalling her win in the 60-meter hurdles in the USA Indoor Nationals in 2007. Before that, Lolo had a series of mediocre stats that likely propelled her to run and hurdle faster, nabbing a PR of 7.77 seconds at the 2007 event, just behind Gail Devers’s national mark.
Lolo was an “outside shot” to make the Athens team in 2004 in the 100-meter hurdles, but hit the ninth hurdle in a qualifying race, which sent her into a spiral of rumination, suddenly unsure of the future she was carving out for herself. She took up minimum-wage work and attended church, which helped her to regain her confidence and direction, eventually chalking up her 2004 errors to immaturity. Sponsored by Nike, then by Asics, Jones continued to bring down her times, edging out many of her teammates at home and placing respectably on the world stage. Then, in 2008, she won the IAAF World Indoor Championships in a time of 7.80, demonstrating that she was perfectly suited to the fast bursts of the 60-meter event.

Watch Lolo earn her berth on the Beijing squad with this win at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. Jones out-hurdled reigning Olympic champion Joanna Hayes.

More key videos of Lolo’s performances can be found in the “Videos” section of her official site, RunLoloRun.com.

The Crash

In the moment, it’s hard not to see the Olympics as everything, whether a spectator or competitor. Lolo’s reaction when she tripped in the final of the 100-meter hurdles on August 20 was excruciating to watch, partly because Jones’s reaction was so emotional, yet so rational. Her teammate Dawn Harper, who was ranked the fourth American in the event, prevailed, “benefiting” from Jones’s mistake, as NBC’s commentators put it. “I felt the gold around me, but it’s hurdles and if you can’t finish the race, you’re not supposed to be the champion,” Lolo told NBC. “The hurdles are coming up so fast … normally I can turn it over and just keep up with the rhythm, but I just couldn’t do it today.”

Overcoming a “disjointed” early life, Jones became a stronger person and athlete, continually wising up and disciplining herself to be better. Even without parents or siblings to cheer her on in high school, Jones continued to push the envelope, with support from her foster families, teammates and coaches, and from inside herself. Like many professional athletes, she’s had to deal with the reality of the career choice, which can mean slow-to-come finances and many starts and stops. Sage beyond her years, Jones has used her newfound star power and accomplishments to help her high school team, and gave her Olympic Trials prize money to an Iowa flood victim. Beijing will probably not be the end of Lolo’s road.
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