Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gary Shelton at the Games: Don't blame fourth-place Lolo Jones for being marketable


How do you sell her now?

How do you package fourth place? How do you market a pedestrian time? How do you place products in hands that did not grip a medal?

Lolo Jones, personality and performer, stood at the finish line, her shoulders slumped, her tears flowing. A few meters away, an Australian named Sally Pearson had just dropped to the track, amazed that she had won gold in the 100-meter hurdles Tuesday. Two other Americans — Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells — were draping flags around their shoulders and celebrating.

Jones watched for a minute and then walked slowly away. It was not her night. Again.

In fact, it has not been Jones' week. The American turned 30 on Sunday. Her critics seemed everywhere, especially in the New York Times, proclaiming that her fame off the track had grown out of proportion to her lack of success on it.

And now this: fourth place. More heartbreak. More tears.

Soon, perhaps, more critics.

"I can at least lift my head a little higher," she said. "When I tell my kids when their mom ran at the Olympics, it won't be a bittersweet memory. At least this time, it was a clean race. I would have liked a better result.

"It just felt hard this whole year. It's my season best (time, 12.58 seconds), so it's the best I could do for this year. Obviously, I'm crushed."

In some ways, perhaps an ordinary finish was to be expected. Jones had spinal surgery last year, and her recent times did not approach those of four years ago, when in the Olympic final she clipped a hurdle while leading and finished seventh. Those Games ended with her weeping, too.

Since then, Jones has become one of the most popular athletes on the United States team. She has posed, and she has pitched, and she has been on the late-night talk shows. When she announced that she was a virgin at age 29, her popularity soared. The female Tim Tebow, some said.

Then came the backlash. Suddenly, it wasn't so cool to be Lolo. The New York Times. Time magazine. The Sporting News.

There were comparisons to Anna Kournikova, the most famous of the pay-me-because-I'm-pretty-crowd. That was harsh because Kournikova never came close to winning anything major. But the message was the same, low and hard, and it seemed to blindside Jones.

"I heard it was quite bad," Jones said after the race. "I don't understand why (the New York Times) would want to rip a U.S. athlete two days before she competes. It was kind of difficult this year. You never know where these attacks come from.

"I'm really disappointed in myself, and I feel like I let a lot of people down. I guess all the people who were talking about me … they can have their night and laugh at me, I guess."

It is not new that celebrity seems to favor attractive athletes instead of accomplished ones. But let's face it: Sponsors aren't spending their money to reward the better athletes. They're trying to find the right one to sell their goods. It might not be fair, but it also didn't start with Jones.

Said the New York Times: "Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses."

Said the Sporting News: "If she wasn't H-O-T, she might as well be a rower from Burma."

Here's the money question, however: What was Jones supposed to do? Turn the money down? Refer the sponsors to Harper, to Wells, to any more accomplished Olympian?

Remember, we are talking about a woman who grew up in the basement of a Salvation Army, a woman who shoplifted as a child because she had nothing to eat, a woman whose father was in prison. Of course she took the money. Who wouldn't? If anything, perhaps we should praise her agent for putting so many products into her hands.

It is anyone's guess whether another disappointment at the Olympics will mean death to Jones' status as a saleswoman. She is still going to be attractive and charismatic. But sponsors seem to notice fourth place, too. If Jones had won, she would have been on every channel on your television. Now? Who knows?

Jones never had a chance in the event, not really. She barely qualified for the final, and once there, she never challenged. She seemed to lack the burst she had four years ago.

"I was just hoping I could squeak away a medal," she said.

There is always 2016, of course. Jones has long thought about Rio being her finale. After the race, she didn't sound as sure.

"It's just that having two bittersweet Olympics, it's like, man, I don't know. Like every time I come here, I get burned," Jones said.

After this, perhaps it will be Harper, a delightfully funny woman who captured the silver, who sells the cereal. Perhaps it will be Wells, a friendly sort with a splotch of blue in her hair and bronze around her, who sells cars. There should be enough products to go around.

And, yes, perhaps some businesses will still want Jones. Television has a lot of pitchmen who never won Olympic medals, either.

Don't blame Jones for that. Blame the sponsors.

Gary Shelton at the Games: Don't blame fourth-place Lolo Jones for being marketable 08/07/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 10:35pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Steven Souza Jr. snaps out of slump as Rays defeat Angels

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — After Tuesday's shutout loss to the Angels, Steven Souza Jr. stood in front of his locker and talked about his need to contribute to the offense.

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jesus Sucre (45) hugs right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) in the dugout after his two run home run in the second inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.
  2. Tom Jones: Rays made right move sending Blake Snell to minors

    The Heater

    tom jones' two cents


    Blake Snell’s struggles on the mound were only one of the reasons the Rays sent him to the minors; some other red flags existed. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Angels game

    The Heater

    Rookie RHP Ryne Stanek has had his early struggles, but Wednesday he showed his high-octane potential, working around a one-out walk to strike out the mighty Mike Trout (on a 98.4 mph fastball) and legendary Albert Pujols (98.7), both swinging.

  4. Rays journal: More bullpen changes as Diego Moreno heads to DL

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays bullpen has another new look.

    Rays reliever Diego Moreno, pitching Sunday against the Yankees, heads the DL with shoulder bursitis.
  5. ACC baseball tournament: FSU beats Notre Dame on 12th-inning HR


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jackson Lueck hit his second two-run home run of the game in the 12th inning, lifting Florida State past Notre Dame 5-3 on Wednesday at a rainy ACC baseball tournament.

    Florida State outfielder Jackson Lueck (2) connects for a game-winning home run in the 12th inning during game 4 of the 2017 ACC Baseball Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (Wade Payne/ via AP)