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Caple: Look at Harper and Wells, not Jones

Commentary

Attention on Lolo distracts from performances by those who won track medals

Updated: August 7, 2012, 8:28 PM ET

By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

LONDON — And now a few words about the Americans who actually medaled Tuesday night.

A Brangelina-worthy chunk of U.S. media swarmed the mixed zone to interview Lolo Jones after she finished in fourth place in the 100-meter hurdles. As she talked frankly about her disappointment, few of the reporters noticed on the nearby TV monitor that Leonel Manzano was kicking home to become the first American to medal in the men’s 1,500 since Jim Ryun in 1968.

Not many of them bothered to wait around to interview Manzano or 100 hurdle medalists Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells when they came by minutes later, either.

Look, I get why Jones is a captivating story. She dramatically lost a gold medal in Beijing when she caught a hurdle near the end of the race. She grew up so poor she had to live in a Salvation Army basement. She is recovering from career-threatening injuries and surgeries. She is a great speaker. And, of course, she is drop-dead gorgeous.

But Harper’s life wasn’t always easy, either. She also is coming off a career-threatening injury — after knee surgery in 2010, the doctor told her she might never hurdle again. She’s a dynamic speaker with a good sense of humor and an infectious smile. She also is very attractive (although she doesn’t give nationally televised interviews about being a virgin).

[+] EnlargeHurdles

Bob Donnan/US PresswireLolo Jones is always in the picture, but don’t forget to look at Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, who crossed the finish line a little earlier.

More importantly, she is a gold and silver medalist. She won the gold medal in 2008; not Jones. She won the silver medal Tuesday; not Jones. When it mattered, Harper has come through; not Jones.

I asked Harper whether she has received the proper attention she deserves for her medals. After prefacing her response by saying her public relations agent told her not to answer that question, Harper emphatically answered, “No!”

“We discussed this earlier, and he said, ‘You should shy away from that,’ and I’m like, I want to be real with my fans, the ones who have been with me in the beginning,” she said. “I’ve put so much out there and sacrificed so much, I feel like my life/story has kind of been trampled on for the last four years.”

Well, I don’t know whether trampled is the most accurate word, but Harper definitely hasn’t gotten her due.

And please, don’t read her response as being whiny because it wasn’t at all. Despite losing the gold medal to Australia’s Sally Pearson by two-hundredths of a second, Harper was about as happy as an athlete can be after her race. She joked, she laughed, she smiled. She spoke proudly of her performance: “I was pretty darn fast today.” She talked about enjoying the entire Olympic experience rather than focusing so much on the medals that she lost track of everything else. She even talked about throwing a party for her hometown.

“I want to do something for my city,” she said. “I want to throw a party. I want to give back. I want to say, ‘You have done so, so much to appreciate me, and I want to show I appreciate you.’”

Manzano also has an interesting back story. He was born in Mexico before his parents moved to Texas when he was a child — “The U.S. is my home and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but my roots are still in Mexico,” he said. And by winning America’s first silver medal in the 1,500 in 44 years, he continued the country’s success in distance running in these Olympics.

“You think of Galen Rupp, Matt Centrowitz and myself, we have really brought U.S. distance running around the corner,” he said. “And it’s just going to get better.”

Wells said she had never been so happy to see her name as when it flashed on the scoreboard as the bronze medalist. Of course, she hasn’t seen it much in the media. “Now they can’t leave me out because I’ll be in all the pictures on the podium,” she said, adding that when it comes to getting your name out there, “You’ve got to take your chances when you can.”

Yes, you do, which is why I don’t blame Jones at all for marketing herself. Athletes have short careers, and they must make what they can when they can. I also feel bad for Jones. It is incredibly painful to work so hard for a goal and miss it by one-tenth of a second or because you stumbled. “In 2008, I tasted the medal,” she said. “Here, I was just clawing through each round to get on the team. It was a different experience. I always say, I don’t want to finish fourth because that’s the hardest spot to be in.”

I also often find the losing athlete a more compelling story (case in point: Tyson Gay when he lost the 100-meter dash by one one-hundredth of a second). As Charles Schulz once said about why he had Charlie Brown lose all time — losing is more interesting.

Jones is certainly interesting. But that doesn’t mean we should focus so much on someone who hasn’t won that we completely ignore the people who are going home to America with medals, such as Harper, Wells, Manzano and high jump silver medalist Erik Kynard.

“Like I’ve told everyone else, if you’re watching Lolo, you’re watching me,” Wells said. “And I’m doing my job pretty well. So keep watching Lolo, and you’ll see me, too.”

She and Harper will be the ones in front.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com


ESPN.com

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