This weekend U.S. track and field stars Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams were named to the U.S. Olympic bobsled team. Participation in the 2014 Olympics at Sochi will make them two of only ten American athletes and two of only 25 female athletes worldwide to ever participate in both the summer and winter Olympics. This feat alone should garner praise and admiration, but for one of these two athletes, her accomplishments thus far just haven’t been enough. Hurdler Lolo Jones has been both a world and U.S. champion and competed in the last two summer Olympics; that’s nothing to sneeze at. Despite her successes, many have refused to credit Jones with being a great athlete. In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, after clipping the second-to-last hurdle in the 100m finals, Jones dropped from first place to finish seventh overall. After battling criticism, injuries and illness Jones returned to the Olympic stage in London but finished in a devastating fourth place. These Olympic shortcomings have made room for doubters and naysayers.
Many have discredited Jones’ greatness with the fact that she has yet to win an Olympic medal, but greatness isn’t defined by Olympic medals alone. Jones has achieved greatness. Various dictionaries define greatness as, “the quality of being great, distinguished or eminent; remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree or extent; exceptionally high quality.” By those definitions, Jones is a great athlete. For even a chance at becoming a national champion you must spend years of your life training, sacrificing and perfecting your talent. You must run race after race after race and on a particular day outrun all of the rest of the nation’s top hurdlers. Jones has done that, multiple times. Being one of the best athletes in this country is by definition, exceptional and outstanding. To be a world champion, you must faster and stronger than all the other hurdlers in the world, on the entire planet. Jones has done that too. She has stood on the podium as the world champion hurdler and that distinguishes her from thousands of other hurdlers on this planet. She has reached the epitome of greatness and her Olympic failures don’t make her moments of perfection any less great.
Yes, an Olympic medal is an indication of greatness, but since it only comes around once every four years, it can’t possibly be the only indication of greatness. Greatness is measured with each competition that an athlete participates in, not just the Olympics. To some an Olympic medal is the very pinnacle of greatness, but there are many other athletes who never reach the pinnacle of their sport and are still regarded as great athletes. Jones should be given that same respect. NFL Hall of Famers Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson never made it to, let alone played in a Super Bowl, and they are still considered some of the greatest football players of all-time. NBA Hall of Famers Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton never won a prized NBA Championship ring; and yet no one would question their greatness. Jones has repeatedly proven her greatness in non-Olympic competitions. No one should question Jones’ greatness.
Jones has accomplished many great things, the greatest of which is her continuous display of tenacity and faith. Personal failures and disappointments suffered in the public eye take a toll on any athlete. In addition to constant commentary on her failures to make the Olympic podium, Jones has endured criticism about her lifestyle and is often judged and misjudged for her openness and willingness to interact with the public. She has been slowed down by injuries and illnesses, and overcome a childhood of poverty and hardship. And yet, she keeps fighting. Jones fights her critics verbally and with her performances. Though circumstances thus far may have prevented her from winning a prized Olympic medal, she has not given up. Instead she has channeled her skill and determination into a sport that was once foreign to her and excelled. She is a runner and has been brave enough to exploit her talents in another sport and risk yet another public failure. Rather than fail, she has succeeded. She is now a dual-sport athlete and has managed represent our country in both of the sports. Time has yet to tell if Jones will ever obtain that Olympic medal that she’s chasing, but time has already told us one thing: Lolo Jones is a great athlete.