LONDON - Sally Pearson won the women’s 100 meter-hurdles in Olympic record time Tuesday night. She is the current world champion from Australia who was raised by a single mother who worked two jobs to help pay for such athletic endeavors.
Dawn Harper finished second and won silver. She is the American from St. Louis who won gold in this event four years ago in Beijing. Kellie Wells is also from the United States and earned the bronze medal here.
But no one cares about any of that.
And that’s the problem.
What people want to know about this race at these Olympics is how Lolo Jones fared, how the 30-year old woman who time and again has revealed she is a virgin matched up against the world’s best, how the athlete with cover-girl looks who has cashed in famously on our obsession with beauty came through.
It’s simple. She didn’t.
Jones finished fourth in a season-best 12.58 seconds, and her placement makes all the sense in the world. She barely qualified for the U.S. team and then barely made the final here, qualifying eighth. Four years after clipping the ninth of 10 hurdles with a gold medal in sight in Beijing and instead finishing seventh, she remains a very good hurdler at the world-class level.
She is just not as good as her popularity suggests.
The New York Times a few days ago ran an article that blasted Jones for over-promoting herself, for posing nude in ESPN the Magazine at the same time constantly citing her Christian beliefs, for not owning any sort of Olympic success that would warrant the exposure she receives and, well, gives.
It had a very anti-Tim Tebow feel to it.
“I haven’t read it,” Jones said shortly after the 100-meter hurdles final. “I heard it was quite bad. I just don’t know why they would tear down a U.S. athlete two days before they compete in the Olympics.
“I guess all the people who were talking about me can have their night now and laugh.”
Well, that would be pathetic.
I don’t know if she is an Olympic fraud as the Times piece insinuated, but few can argue she hasn’t embraced the role of publicity chameleon. She is everywhere despite having not won much of anything since turning professional, but to celebrate another’s heartache about finishing one spot out off the medals podium speaks only to the insecurity of those sad enough to participate.
It’s also not an original concept, sponsors chasing someone as much for their sex appeal as skill. You can lay the blame at the feet of corporate America as much as the pretty face of Jones. After all, NBC hasn’t devoted a majority of its coverage to women’s beach volleyball for the shots of Buckingham Palace.
We know what we like and they know what sells.
The sad part in these tales never changes, and it is this: Those who should be championed today - Pearson for her 12.35, Harper for her 12.37, Wells for her 12.48, all run in a consistent rain at Olympic Stadium - become sidebars to the Jones saga. It was the same when swimmer Ryan Lochte opened these Olympics by winning a race in which Michael Phelps finished fourth. The wrong guy became the story in newspapers across the world the following day.
It’s true Jones has battled several injuries since Beijing and labored much of this season, so that she ran fast in Tuesday’s final is newsworthy to a point. That she draws attention to herself in such overt fashion is just old.
“I can hold my head up a little higher this time,” she said. “At least this time, it was a clean race unlike with what happened (in Beijing). Obviously, I’m crushed. I barely got through the season and got lucky breaks when I needed them. “In ‘08, I tasted the medal. Here, I was crawling all the way through trials just to get on the team. Fourth place is the hardest spot to be in. I figured I was out of the medals at the finish, just hoping on a prayer and a chance that I could squeak in there. You always wonder what you could have done better.”
I sat behind two men on a subway here Tuesday morning and their discussion about the evening’s track events quickly turned to Jones. “She is running, but I don’t know if she will make the final,” one said. “She hasn’t been good at all lately. I just don’t get why U.S. track is so intent on building itself around her and wanting to make her the face of the sport.”
There was a slight pause.
“Because,” the other said, “she’s hot.”
Ed Graney is a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also is writing an Olympics blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/graney Follow him on Twitter @edgraney He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org