The Olympics really don't belong to the winners. Sure, they get the medals and the media, the magazine covers and the Wheaties box. They get the glory and the gold. But the Olympics really belong to the losers. After all, there are more of them. In fact, nearly everyone who comes to the Olympics leaves a loser. They won't take home any precious metal. But they're the ones who make that metal truly precious. Because it is in that depth of disappointment that we often see a person's true mettle.
In these games, few have shown us more than Lolo Jones. Her story is custom made for those soft-focus profiles with lilting soundtracks that television producers adore. She came from poverty. Her family lived in the Salvation Army basement for spell. She went through depression. She fell at the trials in 2004 and failed to make the Athens games. Still, through it all, she kept her focus. She worked minimum wage jobs. She was the first in her family to graduate from college, earning an economics degree from LSU. And, earlier this year, the girl who was once homeless went back to her high school in Des Moines and donated $3,000 to repair its track. She later gave her $4,000 prize money for winning the 2008 Olympic trials to a fund for a single mother who was a victim of the recent Iowa floods.
So in Beijing everyone expected her to win, wanted her to win the 100-meter hurdles. Through the first nine hurdles it looked like she would do just that. And then, then her right foot didn't make it over all 33-inches. She clipped the top of the penultimate hurdle, lost her balance and – in that split second – lost the gold. In fact, she lost any medal, finishing seventh. Afterward she fell to the track on her knees. No words were needed to explain her emotions. Yet, after letting it sink in that her life's work may forever go unfulfilled, she got up and walked over to the cameras. She smiled; she made no excuses. “It's hurdles,” she told the eager microphones, “and if you can't finish the race, you're not supposed to be the champion.” Everyone wants to be the champion. Still sometimes it's the losers like Lolo Jones who show us how to really win. Happy weekend, all.