In 2004, hurdler Lolo Jones watched the Olympic Games in tears from her living room. She had hoped to compete but fell short of qualifying. Four years later, her tears came on the track in Beijing when she stumbled over the second-to-last hurdle and finished seventh.
Those wounds remain fresh even now on the brink of this summer's Games in London. But Jones has made a habit in life of running past hurt. She ran past a dysfunctional home life to find peace in her Christian faith. She ran past an impoverished youth to a college scholarship at LSU. And she is aiming to run past Olympic disappointments to a whole new kind tears-podium tears.
Jones, 29, will be among the most-watched American athletes when the London Games open on July 27. Her story of humble beginnings and heartbreak in Beijing is the stuff of television producers' dreams. It doesn't hurt that she looks the part of a multi-ethnic supermodel and is the favorite again to claim gold in the 100m hurdles. But with her recent public revelation that she remains a virgin, Jones is gaining attention similar to that of NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.
Jones got plenty of attention when she revealed her virginity on Twitter. And the blogs buzzed after an interview on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in which she discussed her life choice further: "It's just a gift I want to give my husband. But please understand this journey has been hard. There are virgins out there and I want to let them know that it's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Harder than training for the Olympics. Harder than graduating from college has been to stay a virgin before marriage. I've been tempted. I've had plenty of opportunities."
Jones has a sense of humor about her commitment to chastity, suggesting that her 30th birthday in August would make her the perfect choice for a sequel to Steve Carell's film The 40 Year Old Virgin: "I'm a little bit awkward like Steve Carell." But Jones isn't laughing when she considers the reasons for her decision. Her parents never married and separated during her childhood. She imagines a very different life, but she knows she is blessed, tweeting recently, "God has helped me so much in life that even tho I'm unmarried, no oly medal & even if he never blessed me again, still I'd still praise Him."
The Title IX law, which requires universities to provide equal access to athletics for male and female students, has often taken blame for the demise of low-profile collegiate sports like wrestling and men's gymnastics. Schools have cut such programs, the argument goes, to trim the number of male athletes down to match the number of female athletes. But as ESPN's Peter Keating recently pointed out, the NCAA and its scholarship limits are the true culprits.
Since the 1970s, the NCAA has set limits on the number of scholarships universities can offer in particular sports. Even if a school wanted to field a large men's rowing team, for example, it could not offer a single scholarship in the sport. The purpose for such limits is to prevent schools from allocating all of their scholarships into one or two powerhouse sports. But the effect is a prohibitive damper on the natural ebbs and flows of interest in various sports. Men's rifle has more scholarships than men's rugby, and women's equestrian outnumbers softball, baseball, and men's basketball. Title IX may well be based on the false premise that men and women are equally interested in competitive athletics, but the NCAA has a few dubious premises of its own. -Mark Bergin