American track athletes: Leave Lolo Jones alone

Les Carpenter
Yahoo! Sports

LONDON – The problem with saying you are a virgin and posing naked in magazines is that the world tends not to leave you alone. And so Lolo Jones is not going to disappear from these Olympics, even as she flickered out of the 100-meter hurdles with a fourth-place finish on Tuesday night.

A day later, her name still dangled over the Olympic Stadium because of a morning appearance on the "Today" show during which she cried. She said she was crying because of a column in the New York Times that criticized her for being a marketing creation built more on looks than athletic substance. She said this was unfair. She said the newspaper should be supporting her because it is published on American soil.

The video of her crying made the Internet on Wednesday morning and by afternoon it had become one of those things that everybody was talking about. Was the column fair? Was she too sensitive? Didn't the two women who finished ahead of her criticize her too?

"Lolo is a friend of mine and I always try to uplift her because it's not her fault she's in the spotlight, absolutely not her fault," American hurdler Lashinda Demus said Wednesday after winning a silver medal in the 400-meter hurdles. "You can't help who loves you and who takes to you and that's what I tell her all the time."

[ Video: Why her fourth-place finish was no surprise ]

Demus, who ran in college at South Carolina, a rival to Jones' LSU, said they first came to know each other during SEC meets and have stayed close as adults. She described Jones as "a great person" and "a great athlete."

"All I can tell her is she proves it on the track," Demus said. "She works to her potential."

They talk often, Demus said, adding that the attention drains Jones, leaving her struggling to manage the attention.

"I've had plenty of talks with Lolo and that's been on her heart heavy so I know exactly what she's feeling," Demus said. "She expressed to me how she felt and I know it takes a lot out of her. It's a lot of stress."

Asked if that stress affects Jones' performance, Demus nodded.

"It definitely does," she said. "You have to take what somebody says, ignore it and press on. Not everybody is going to love you."

[Related: Full video coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games in London]

Demus did not see the "Today" interview. Many of the American athletes who ran on Wednesday were not familiar with what Jones said or the fact she cried. Most were trapped in the bubble of their preparation, too concerned with their own Olympics to worry about Lolo Jones'.

Still the news reached U.S. sprinter Wallace Spearmon, who is staying in a suite next door to Jones in the athletes' village. He called her and asked if she was OK. She said she was so he hung up and left her alone.

"I'm a big supporter of Lolo," he said. "All the criticism? She never asked for the attention. It was given to her. She finished fourth behind two Americans, so I don't know what all the fuss is about."

He shrugged.

"It's a part of our sport," he said. "There are good parts and bad parts."

[ Photos: Lolo in action ]

Much like Demus, Spearmon was bothered by the negative attention swirling around Jones. Like Demus he called her "a great person." He said she was a friend. And he seemed to wish the surge of attention would disappear.

But athletes who pose nude and talk about their virginity don't vanish quickly. And so even without a medal Jones is going to be a topic even after the Olympics.

"She's not the first and she won't be the last," Demus said of the naked pictures. "It's not that big a deal. You're going to have criticism no matter what."

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