Lolo Jones is perhaps one of the most notorious and incredible Olympic stories of the past decade. She’s a comeback kid who can’t quite complete the comeback, falling from track and field favorite to underdog to a now unlikely competitor in a different sport all together: bobsledding. Along with bobsledding teammate and fellow U.S. track star Lauryn Williams, Jones is one of only 10 U.S. Olympians ever to compete in both a winter and a summer games.
For Jones, there has rarely been a quiet moment in what has been a tumultuous and unfruitful quest for a medal. From proclaiming her virginity to the world to posting distasteful statuses in the wake of the Aurora theater shootings, Jones has never strayed far from the spotlight. Her appointment to the U.S. Bobsled team has been the latest way of stirring up controversy and getting people talking.
The story of one of the most well-known, undecorated Olympians ever is truly astonishing. Jones, a hurdler, was a favorite in the 2008 Games in Beijing to win the 100-meter hurdles. Everything changed when Jones tripped over the ninth hurdle, losing her lead and landing her a disappointing seventh-place finish.
In the wake of the devastation in Beijing, Jones encountered another hurdle off the track. She discovered that she had a spinal problem that was causing her brain to be unable to locate the lower parts of her legs and feet in space. This condition allegedly was at play in the Beijing race, and Jones underwent a successful operation to fix the problem.
Jones then went on to stage one of the great comebacks in recent Olympic history, racking up top finishes en route to her third place, Olympic qualifying performance in June 2012. One of the most well-known, undecorated U.S. athletes, seemed to be poised for a trip to the podium after all.
And yet once again, Jones failed to deliver. A fourth-place finish in London landed her painfully close to a medal, but her Games ended in devastating fashion, leaving Jones once again looking for an answer she couldn’t seem to find.
The answer, at least for Jones, was bobsledding.
Jones’ quick and seemingly seamless transition to a new elite sport is nothing short of amazing. And yet the conversation has focused less on the awesomeness of her athletic achievement and more on her public persona.
Allegations of a marketing scheme have been thrown around by many, including two veteran bobsledders, Emily Azevedo and Katie Eberling, whose spots Jones usurped. The Selection Committee and Jones’ fellow teammates deny the allegations, defending her right to be on the team even though trial times and everyone’s gut seems to be telling a different story.
Skeptics have argued that Jones has made the team for her looks and that she’s nothing but a publicity stunt used to help bolster interest in women’s bobsledding. Azevedo has gone so far as to claim that the number of Twitter followers Jones has seems to have been valued over her talent. Critics have even challenged the sport of bobsledding itself, questioning how it could be possible that two amateurs in Jones and Williams could become Olympians in a matter of a year.
Admittedly, Jones hasn’t helped her own cause much. She most recently tweeted a video of herself seductively unzipping her spandex USA bobsled suit, and has begged to know why everyone dislikes her “because of her popularity.” Sounding a bit more like Regina George than an Olympic hopeful, Jones continues to make skeptics out of could-be fans, myself included.
And yet I still can’t help but be drawn to Jones’ story: two-time medal hopeful who can’t seem to connect the dots, Olympian who responded to crushed dreams with renewed energy, track star who sought out athletic excellence any place she could find it, and athlete who has once again landed herself on the world’s grandest stage. There is something inherently compelling and likable about the message of perseverance and hope in Lolo’s story, despite how paradoxically unlikable she often seems.
Like her or not, she is headed to Sochi to compete at the highest level offered in her sport. She has been through a spinal surgery, heartbreak twice over and a rebirth as a bobsled pusher. Her story is inspiring, regardless of what you might think about her, and it speaks volumes louder than anything Jones herself can say. If I could give Lolo one piece of advice, it would be this: Stop tweeting, stop speaking and let the story do the talking.
And let’s remember, nothing talks more loudly than a gold medal.