The story behind Olympian's attention-grabbing Doritos earrings

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On the eve of her best shot at making an Olympic team, Christina Clemons visited the mall and spotted the perfect race-day accessory.

She plunked down $8 at Hot Topic in Eugene, Oregon, to purchase a set of dangly Cool Ranch Doritos earrings.

“When I bought them, I didn’t think it would be a big thing at all,” Clemons told Yahoo Sports. “I was like, ‘Oh, these are so cute.’ I love Doritos and they matched my uniform, so I decided to wear them in the final.”

Christina Clemons made the USA Olympic track and field team in the 100-meter hurdles — while wearing Doritos earrings. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Christina Clemons made the USA Olympic track and field team in the 100-meter hurdles — while wearing Doritos earrings. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

What began as an example of Clemons’ bold personal style turned into a savvy marketing tactic the following evening. Social media was abuzz about Clemons’ snack-inspired earrings Sunday night after she unveiled them for the dramatic 100-meter hurdles final at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Earrings flopping behind her, Clemons snatched third place by less than one hundredth of a second to claim the final spot on the U.S. Olympic team. NBC’s TV cameras stayed trained on Clemons and her distinctive jewelry as she tearfully jumped up and down in celebration of making her first Olympics at age 31.

When Clemons logged onto social media after her race, she was surprised to discover a deluge of messages about her earrings. By Monday morning, she posted a tweet telling her 5,000 followers, “I need y’all to do your thing! We need to blow Doritos mentions UP.”

If Doritos wasn’t aware of Clemons before Monday morning, that changed in a hurry. Only a few hours later, Doritos congratulated Clemons on Twitter and encouraged the future Olympian to “Hit our DMs so we can talk.”

“Someone from Doritos reached out to me saying they would like to talk to me next month,” Clemons said.

Asked if she’d be open to endorsing Doritos during the Olympics, Clemons laughed and said, “100 percent, of course. I would love that.”

It can only boost Clemons' potential as a pitchwoman if she shares her backstory with Doritos during their upcoming meeting. Clemons' journey to Tokyo is a heartwarming tale of unwavering faith and relentless perseverance.

In 2012, Clemons graduated from Ohio State as the four-time Big Ten track athlete of the year and the reigning national champion in the 100m hurdles. She appeared to have the talent to stick as a professional until a devastating injury derailed those hopes.

As Clemons cleared a hurdle during a 2013 practice, she felt something in the back of her leg and she heard a sickening pop. Doctors diagnosed her with a ruptured Achilles tendon and told her she’d need a year to recover, a prognosis she initially misunderstood.

“I thought that meant that I could come back and be myself in a year,” Clemons said. “I didn’t understand that he was saying I wouldn’t be able to do anything for a year until a year passed and I could barely walk the same as before, let alone run.”

The only comfort for Clemons was that Adidas honored the contract she had verbally agreed to just before getting hurt. That gave Clemons a source of income as she endured daily physical therapy sessions to restore her strength, and as she fought through a flurry of injury setbacks related to the initial Achilles tear.

It wasn’t until 2017 that Clemons at last felt healthy and strong. Buoyed by a fighter’s mentality and a fiercer work ethic, Clemons reasserted herself as a factor in the 100 hurdles, missing out on a medal by two one-thousandths of a second at the 2017 World Championships and winning her first Diamond League race two years later. She might have made Worlds again in 2019 had she not clipped a hurdle and fallen off the pace at the USA Outdoor Championships.

While Clemons had consistently run in the 12.5s and 12.6s the past two months, that was no guarantee of a top-three finish and an Olympic berth on Sunday. America is so dominant in the 100 hurdles that the field at the U.S. Trials is often stronger than at the Olympics itself. World record holder Keni Harrison failed to qualify for the 2016 Games, yet American women swept the podium in Rio anyway.

Harrison gained redemption by winning Sunday’s 100 hurdles final, but the race for America’s other two spots in the Tokyo Olympics was agonizingly close. Not until it flashed on the Hayward Field scoreboard did Clemons know for sure that she had outleaned Gabbi Cunningham for third place by five thousandths of a second.

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“It felt like it took a year for my name to pop up,” Clemons said. “I was like, ‘What is going on? Come on, come on.’ Then finally my name appeared and I just completely lost it.”

Tears of joy rolled down Clemons’ cheeks as she celebrated on the track and gave an emotional interview on live TV. That ensured extra airtime for Clemons’ Doritos earrings.

The reaction to her jewelry caught Clemons by surprise because this is not the first time she has worn something memorable during a race. Some of Clemons’ previous race-day looks have featured cell phone or lollipop earrings, black lipstick, “cutie” hair clips and even jewel-encrusted headpieces.

“Everyone seemed to love the Doritos earrings,” Clemons said with a laugh. “I honestly think people were more excited about me wearing Doritos earrings than me going to the Olympics.”

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