CLEARING LIFE’S HURDLES: Lolo Jones on Aug. 6, 2012, during an Olympic preliminary race for the 100-meter hurdles. She hopes to prove wrong the critics who are asking whether she’s more flash than substance. (Photo: Splash News/Newscom)
On Twitter, Lolo Jones sports a playful sense of humor, making jokes about her love life and Olympic adventures, and sometimes sparking controversy.
Her Twitter following skyrocketed after she talked about her decision to save sex for marriage in a May interview on HBO’s Real Sports, gaining herself about 20,000 more followers in four days. Jones has said her purity commitment is rooted in her Christian faith.
As she competed in the women’s 100-meter hurdles this week, Jones found herself in the spotlight again, and media outlets haven’t forgotten the buzz surrounding her virginity. The New York Times wrote about it this past weekend in a controversial article, provocatively titled “For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image,” which suggested Jones was playing up her virginity, beauty, and poor upbringing for undeserved media attention. That piece has since come under fire.
But despite doubts that her athletic ability warranted attention, the 30-year-old track star came just shy of a medal on Tuesday, August 7, placing fourth in the 100-meter hurdles. Of course that fourth-place finish held little consolation for Jones, who had come so close to a gold medal four years earlier in Beijing before clipping the second-to-last hurdle and falling out of medal contention. Many viewed London as her chance for redemption — or at least that was the narrative that the media played up. Time magazine, for instance, recently featured her as one of three Olympians on the cover of their Olympics special issue and wrote about her trip-up in “Lolo’s No Choke.”
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s outcome fell short of a storybook ending. “I’ll definitely be reading my Bible and try to grasp the positives and see what God has to teach me from all this,” Jones said after the finals. “That’s the only way I feel I can get rebalanced right now, because I am so broken-hearted.”
Without fail, crude jokes about Jones’s virginity lit up Twitter and other social media following her loss.
Faith in the Public Eye
The New York Times wasn’t the first to criticize Jones for talking about her virginity or using sex appeal. TMZ made fun of her virginity. Others also questioned if her ESPN body issue photo compromised her values. On May 25, Jones tweeted in response:
“go to a museum & look at naked pictures/statues of ppl & its considered art but what I did is not? u see no parts exposed” and later, “Ryan hall is another christian. He’s done missions in africa & posed in latest issue. Shall u judge him as well? John 8:7”
Some suggested she date fellow Christian virgin Tim Tebow, to which Jones had a witty tweet: “Ask Tebow if he wants a glass of milk. If he says yes, ask him if he prefers chocolate. if he says no, then no more Tebow date suggestions.”
Jones is African American, Native American, French and Norwegian.
COLORFUL PERSONALITY: In interviews and on Twitter, Jones has been known to be outspoken and irreverent in her comments, which has sometimes landed her in hot water. (Photo: Walter Bieri/Newscom)
Even before this current New York Times controversy, Jones had been stirring things up in the media while awaiting her race in London. Her recent tweet about the Olympic skeet shooting competition drew criticism in light of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting: “USA Men’s Archery lost the gold medal to Italy but that’s ok, we are Americans… When’s da Gun shooting competition?” Jones later tweeted that she had been referring to Americans’ experience with hunting.
Sometimes Jones tweets about her faith, such as on July 26: “As I arrive in London for the Olympics, I’m overwhelmed with emotions. Thank you Lord for another chance and for holding me as i waited.” She thanked people for praying for her on July 22, but after criticism, clarified that her prayer was “to be an inspiration & to honor God,” not to win a gold medal.
“I never have prayed to win a gold medal at Olympics and never will,” Jones tweeted. “The Lord is my Shepard and I shall not want. May His will be done.”
Bonding Through Struggle
In her Real Sports interview, Jones said saving sex for marriage has been “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, harder than training for the Olympics.”
But outside the spotlight, Jones tells how her Christian faith has sustained her through her struggles, and how her sister Angie Jefferson has encouraged her along the way.
Jones wrote about her older sister in an essay for the O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award, which recognizes a person who has inspired an Olympian to succeed. In it, Jones quoted Romans 9:12, “The older will serve the younger,” and wrote, “Angie is my reminder from God to stop at never.”
Growing up poor, Jones learned how to shoplift TV dinners and make a quick escape if she needed to, according to Time. Her family moved around frequently, and was at one point rendered homeless, living in a Salvation Army church basement.
Money was tight, but Jones has told stories about how her mother and sister helped her succeed. In a Procter & Gamble video series, “Raising an Olympian,” Jones said, “My mom would always try to do by any means necessary to make sure that we had what we needed. I definitely do not think I’d be going for this dream had I not seen her pick herself up so many times and keep fighting for us.”
STOPPING AT NEVER: Jones credits her sister for helping her develop a persevering spirit.
Meanwhile, her sister Angie Jefferson, then a teenager, recognized her talent and bought Jones her first running gear — which Jones said in her essay saved her the embarrassment of wearing old clothes.
When Jones moved across the country to go to Louisiana State University, Jefferson was again there for her sister through visits and tearful phone calls.
“Life was hard because the ghosts of my childhood were still there,” Jones wrote in her essay. “But thankfully, so was [Angie] — constantly reminding me there wasn’t anything I couldn’t overcome and survive with God’s help.”
Now, Jefferson serves as Jones’s manager. She encouraged her when Jones faced spine surgery a year ago. “It’s going to be okay,” Jefferson said, according to Jones’s essay. “I have a peace about Dr. Bray and his ability to help you. We are going to pray for God’s favor and trust God to take care of you.”
Jones wrote that she remembers seeing her sister with her prayer journal before a January 2012 race. It gave her a sense of peace. After Jones’s victory, the sisters hugged and cried together.
“It was a moment that words can’t express, a bond that together, can overcome anything,” Jones wrote.
On Monday, before her qualifying race in London, Jones was seen mouthing Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Even after Tuesday’s disappointing result, one suspects she’ll continue to hold onto that truth.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to address the results of Jones’s finals race on Tuesday, August 7.
RUNNING FOR HIS LIFE: Lopez Lomong. (Photo by Paul Merca)
During these exciting London Olympics, there has been a little something for everyone: unexpected victories, unexpected disappointment, scandal, and comedy. That’s why we love the Games so much, right? Many inspirational and moving moments have emerged that encourage us to consider the strength, power, and resolve associated with the human mind, body, and spirit.
Countless stories will surface framing the many successes and failures of these competitors from all over the world. But three under-reported stories of hope that grabbed my attention this week were those of Lopez Lomong, a 27-year-old Lost Boy of Sudan competing in the 5,000-meter race for the U.S. track and field team; Afghani female sprinter Tahmina Kohistani; and 22-year-old judo champioin Kayla Harrison of the U.S.
A Lost Boy’s Discovery: Lopez Lomong
In an article posted at Christianity Today, contributor Cornelia Becker Seigneur tells the moving story of Lomong’s long road to triumph in her feature, “Lost Boy Olympian Lopez Lomong Runs to Save Lives.”
Lomong’s journey began in 1991, when rebels in the second Sudanese civil war attacked his home village of Kimotong. “I was 6 years old when I was abducted at church, which met under a tree,” Lomong said.
“They ripped my mother’s arm from me, throwing me and other boys into a truck; they blindfolded us, then drove us to a prison camp that trained rebel soldiers.”
Lomong and 80 other boys were beaten and forced into a life of fear and abuse. He speaks about his daring escape, when he and three older boys whom he calls his “three angels” ran for three days non-stop to safety.
“The savannas are very tough. [My] legs and feet were bleeding,” said Lomong. “When I wanted to stop, my angels carried me.”
Lomong never returned home to his mother or his village, instead he and the three other boys “hobbled into the United Nations-sponsored Kakuma refugee camp near Nairobi, Kenya,” where he remained for 10 years.
“They brought me from harsh wilderness to the Promised Land, then disappeared like angels,” he said. “They are my inspiration for what I am doing now. God was with them to help me.”
When Lomong turned 16, he heard of an opportunity that afforded 3,500 boys a chance to move to the United States, all they had to do was write an essay about their lives. Lomong wrote his in a style of a prayer to the Lord asking that He would guide his footsteps in the long journey that awaited him. Lomong was selected and relocated to the United States. There he was placed into the foster care of Robert and Barb Rogers of Syracuse, New York.
He had long dreamed of becoming an Olympic runner. After an impressive career at Northern Arizona University, where he won an NCAA championship in 2007, he would compete in the 2008 Beijing games and now in London.
After finishing 17th in his first ever-Olympic race in 2008, he formed his own non-profit organization called the Lopez Lomong Foundation. Now a Christian, he has also partnered with World Vision to form a new Sudanese charitable foundation called 4 South Sudan, which seeks to provide clean water, healthcare, education, and nutrition for the South Sudanese.
“When I run now, I keep thinking about the children who I had to leave behind, those who did not have the opportunity I had,” he told Christianity Today.
“Running is a talent that God has given me,” he said. “In the Bible when you are given a talent, you can put it in your pocket and not use it or you can use it. I am trying to use mine.”
New Vision for Afghan Women: Tahmina Kohistani
BREAKING DOWN BOUNDARIES: Tahmina Kohistani of Afghanistan. (Photo by Oliver Morin/Newscom)
Another compelling story of triumph is that of Afghani sprinter Tahmina Kohistani. In a post at Yahoo! Sports, reporter Les Carpenter writes about the hardships Kohistani faced on her road to the Olympics.
In a society driven by religious and cultural affiliations proposed by Muslim men, it is against societal rule for any woman to exercise, let alone compete in an athletic event. Kohistani is different because she resists her country’s traditional ideals and embraces more liberated ones. She is the only female competitor from her country participating in the 2012 games.
Carpenter writes that “in many ways [Kohistani] is the ideal of a new Afghanistan, one molded in the months after the initial U.S. invasion during which years of the Taliban’s oppression of women was washed away.”
“It’s difficult to be a woman in Afghanistan,” said Kohistani. “Every second 10, maybe more than 10 women are killed in every province of Afghanistan because they have a lot of illness,” which she believes is due to a lack of activity.
“Exercising is the best way to keep them healthy,” Kohistani said. Her uncle, Hasibullah Kohistani said that although he loves her “stubborn determination,” he’s proud of her accomplishments thus far and believes that she is fighting for something big, writes Carpenter.
Her father, who is an Afghan politician, didn’t approve of his daughter’s running at first, but after seeing how much she loved it, he became a supporter. Though he worries about his daughter’s safety and security, he also does not want her will to be broken.
According to Carpenter, Kohistani dreams of bringing other Afghani women out of their houses after this Olympics and into the nearest gym and recreation center. “She is going to get them running and exercising and living [the] lives they were told they could not have,” he writes.
Kohistani realizes that she stands little chance in winning the 100-meter race, however she believes that she’s doing something that will make a difference. Says Carpenter, the end result of her race is not what matters; what matters “is the message that will come with the simple act of settling into the starting blocks.”
Making History: Kayla Harrison
COMEBACK KID: Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison.
One last story that represents true courage and perseverance is that of Olympic gold medalist, Kayla Harrison. Harrison is the current reigning champion in women’s judo and the first American ever to win a gold medal in the sport. In a remarkable match Thursday night, Harrison put on an impressive display of skills to subdue her opponent, crowd favorite Gemma Gibbons of Great Britain, in the 172-pound women’s final.
But Harrison has not always experienced a life of triumph. Starting at age 13, she was sexually abused by a former judo coach who is now serving a ten-year prison sentence. According to NPR reporter Karen Given, after Harrison’s mother found out about the abuse, “she saw judo not only as the means by which an abuser had gained access to her daughter, but also the means to her daughter’s recovery.”
In another article about Harrison’s historic victory, USA Today sports writer Gary Mihoces describes how at age 16 Harrison began working with a new coach, Jimmy Pedro, who began “lifting her spirit and honing her skill.” The result was a world championship in 2010 and a bronze medal the following year.
Harrison now credits her coaches and family for their support throughout tough times in her journey. She says her goal now is to help other kids like her realize their Olympic dreams. “I want to help kids overcome being victims. I want to help change people’s lives.”
If nothing else, the stories of these Olympic athletes should encourage us to remember the unwavering ability of the human spirit to dream, mend, and persevere. Lomong, Harrison, and Kohistani have proven that they were champions long before they set foot into a gym or onto a track.
LET’S GO: First Lady Michelle Obama urged America’s athletes to ‘have fun, breathe a bit, but also win,’ when she visited their training base in east London today. Mrs. Obama is leading the US presidential delegation which includes a ringside seat at tonight’s ceremony. (Photo: Stefan Rousseau/Newscom)
The 2012 London Olympic games begin today with a ceremony that will turn London’s Olympic Stadium into “green and pleasant land” and will include “a wide array of animal,” E-Online reported. The “green and pleasant land” phrase comes from a patriotic hymn that is based on a William Blake poem, in case you’re wondering. But, amidst sounds of popular British music, there will also be “a game of village cricket as well as a giant replica of Glastonbury Tor in southwest England, with spectators filling up a mosh pit to reflect the Glastonbury music festival.” First Lady Michelle Obama and her husband’s presumptive rival Mitt Romney will be in attendance, the Associated Press reported. NBC begins its broadcast at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Why, one may ask, do the honorable games begin with such odd extravaganzas? “The Olympic opening ceremony embraces the elusive elements that keep bringing us back to sports: pageantry and excitement, the beauty of teamwork and perhaps deep down a sense that sports can somehow facilitate a long-sought-after peace and harmony in the world,” The New York Times reported. The games themselves are “a peaceful celebration of our warlike nature,” Times columnist David Brooks’ opined this morning.
Who knew? I just like to watch the runners and the tumblers. Then when I’m out jogging or doing cartwheels in my soon-to-be 48-year-old body, I imagine myself persevering or flexing my way through any number of personal or professional challenges. In other words, I watch to be inspired and to escape the drudgery of daily life.
PHOTO OP: Mrs. Obama met with members of Team USA this morning. Here she poses with the 2012 Women’s Basketball team. (Photo: Jeff Moore/Newscom)
Previously, we highlighted seven Christian Olympians of color who inspire.Then, Charisma featured some we missed. Among them are hurdler Dawn Harper, basketball players Kevin Durant and Tamika Catchings, weightlifter Kendrick Farris (who asked for donations to help him bring his family to the games), and decathlete Bryan Clay, who failed to make the team, but won Gold in 2008.
Clay was interviewed by author Chad Bonham, who has a book out about 18 Olympians of faith. Asked how he manages expectations vs. the reality that his identity isn’t wrapped up in results, Clay said, in part, “Does God care if you win a game or a race or a gold medal? I’m going to venture out and say, no, probably not. But what He does care about are the lessons you’ve learned along the way through the win or the loss. Whether you win or lose, I think God’s number one goal for you is that you bring glory back to Him. If that means you have to lose for God to get the glory, then that’s what’s going to happen.”
That’s a gold-medal lesson, if ever there was one.
If you still can’t get enough of inspiring athletes, Bonham has also published interviews with past Olympians like Dave Johnson (decathlon) and Shannon Miller (gymnastics), and has a preview up of this year’s competitors. The New York Times Magazine took a unique approach in a lengthy profile of White Christian marathoner Ryan Hall. Its story hinged on Hall’s contention that God is his coach. About.com interviewed Christian runner Sonya Richards-Ross, Elev-8 featured Boxer Claressa Shields, and Christianity Today highlighted basketball player Maya Moore.
If you’re interested in the race angle, The Root published a Black Olympian slideshow and The Grio asked if the games will “save East London’s multicultural community.”
Finally, Charisma reported that “Christian organizations will have volunteers on hand in pedestrian corridors and transport hubs to generate conversations with visitors through creative arts and acts of kindness, and to hold chapel services and other events for people attending the Games.”
I was going to conclude by suggesting you grab a bag of chips and put your feet up to watch the opening ceremony tonight, but I suppose I should suggest instead that you go for a brisk walk first, or, if you’re still at work, munch some carrots while you watch from the stair-master later. In any case, happy viewing!
Ever since the news media got wind of the fact that 29-year-old U.S. Olympic team hurdler Lolo Jones is a virgin who doesn’t plan to have sex until she gets married, we’ve been eager to find out more about other Olympians of color who have unique stories of faith and perseverance. Now Colorlines has helped us along by introducing us to some other U.S. athletes who are heading to London for the games July 27-August 12. So, we’re spring-boarding off their post with a roundup of seven Olympians we’ll be watching in London.
Let’s start with Jones, who didn’t make Colorlines list. Although she placed third at the U.S. Olympic trials last month and will compete in London, the pressure from her public declaration may have contributed to a less than stellar performance, The Los Angeles Times reported. Although “She could have tried to shrug off her obviously slow start and labored effort during the middle of the race … she turned the occasion into a public self-flaying, though it’s unclear if that sprang from a drive for perfection or a response to the pressure that has mushroomed around her because of her good looks, the inspiring story of her impoverished childhood, and her recent remarks in an HBO interview about her faith and her virginity,” the article said. All we know is that Jones is not afraid to let people know what she believes, and we give her props for that.
Another Christian competing this year is 28-year-old runner Allyson Felix, who tied for third place in the 100 meter dash trials with her training partner Jeneba Tarmoh. Twenty-two year old Tarmoh backed out of a proposed run-off for the Olympic spot, allowing Felix to advance, NBC News reported. Tarmoh will be an alternate. In a statement, Felix said she wanted to earn her spot in the 100 and was disappointed that the run-off did not take place, but either way she was already set to run her main event, the 200 meter sprint.
Felix won silver medals in 2004 and 2008. In a 2008 article, Yahoo Voices quoted her as saying, “My faith is definitely the most important aspect of my life. … My dad is a pastor and I grew up in a very strong Christian home. Our family was very involved in our church. I’m currently a work in progress, and like everyone else I face struggles every day.”
Seventeen-year-old Neal is of African American and Chinese American descent, but only the second Black female to qualify for the U.S. team, according to The New York Times. Her mother told Life and Times that she believes her daughter, who attends Convent of the Sacred Heart school in Manhattan, is “blessed.” After the trials, Mrs. Neal said, “[Lia] wanted to do well and earn her spot. It came true. I just thank God for it.”
First from the Colorlines list is 28-year-old swimmer Cullen Jones. He “has worked extensively to encourage African-American kids to take up swimming through the ‘Make A Splash initiative, according to Clutch magazine. After qualifying for two individual events, Jones said his plan is “not to let the U.S. down,” The Charlotte Observer reported.
For 28-year-old high jumper Chaunté Lowe, juggling a second child with gold-medal dreams is more challenging now that she has a second child, according to The Los Angeles Times. Lowe and her husband Mario have two daughters, aged 14 months and four years. She told The Times that it was easier to “tag-team” parent with one child than it is with two. Now, she says, “I don’t have that freedom to just move around and train the way that I want to. But I’m a parent first and I have to take care of my responsibilities and when there’s extra time I get to go take care of the other stuff.”
Gymnast John Orozco “has his sights set on achieving Olympic gold and using that platform to give his family a better life,” according to Business Insider. Orozco, who is Peurto Rican, grew up in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, the article said. When he was ten, he and his brothers were assaulted by a gang of guys as they walked home from church. His mother suffers from lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and, in 2007, his father had a stroke in 2007, BI reported, and he gave up college eligibility to go pro in 2011.
Sixteen-year-old gymnast Gabrielle Douglas is called “Flying Squirrel” by U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi because of her “height-defying release moves on the uneven bars,” The Los Angeles Times reported. She too has faced family challenges. Her mother, Natalie Hawkins, told The Times that she “almost went into a depression,” when Gabrielle left their home at 14 to train in Iowa with renowned coach Liang Chow. Hawkins said is finalizing her divorce from with Douglas’ father and that the father in the host home where she lives is “an awesome father figure” for her.
Colorlines featured Native American synchronized swimmer Mary Killman today, and Hawaiian volleyball Tamari Miyashiro and Cuban American gymnast Danell Leyva were also featured in their roundup.
So, which Olympians of color inspire you?
STREETS OF FIRE: Young people wearing hoods and masks have vandalized, looted, and burned communities throughout the UK. But what are they protesting?
With the view of a glamarous royal wedding quickly receding in the rear view mirror, London and other British cities erupted in violence this week after a 29-year-old black man was shot by police in a north London neighborhood Saturday night and peaceful protests were allegedly ignored. This has led to the natural assumption that the chaos happening in the United Kingdom is the direct result of racial unrest. But is that a safe assumption?
Did racial tensions fuel the riots?
It’s impossible to tell, said Kurt Volker, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Transatlantic Relations, in an interview with Mother Jones. “In addition to youth unemployment, I’d also have to point to a general sense of unease,” said Volker. “With austerity cuts, controlling the debt, watching what’s happening in the Euro zone. It’s just gotta be very unsettling for people. You take this element of great uncertainty, and it has somehow turned into this.”
Yes, said Lola Adesioye at The Grio. “This has been a long time coming,” said Adesioye. “This violence is as a result of, among other things, unexamined racial issues, a crumbling sense of community among black people with no real leadership, unresolved class issues, social exclusion coupled with a lack of opportunities, a deep recession in addition to an extremely high cost of living, a new government who has been cutting back on services for youth, disenfranchised young people, and a dependency culture all rolled into one.”
Not so fast, said The Guardian. Data journalist Matt Stiles created a map correlating the riots with poverty, but another article dismissed the notion that any one racial group dominated the violence. “As multi-ethnic areas from London to Birmingham, Liverpool, and Bristol burned, a myth was being dispelled: that so-called ‘black youths’ are largely behind such violence,” the article said. “In Tottenham on Saturday many of those who gathered at the police station to protest against the shooting of Mark Duggan were, like him, black. But others were Asian and white. By the following day, as the looting spread to other north London suburbs, there appeared to have been a slight shift in the demographic, which started to look younger. In Enfield most of those who gathered in the town centre were white. The youngest looked about 10-years-old.”
If it’s not racial, then what’s driving it?
It’s part of a worldwide response to economic unrest, CNBC reported, but “politicians from both the right and the left, the police and most residents of the areas hit by violence nearly unanimously describe the most recent riots as criminal and anarchic, lacking even a hint of the antigovernment, anti-austerity message that has driven many of the violent protests in other European countries,” countered The New York Times, noting nonetheless that one million British young people between ages 16 and 24 are officially unemployed.
The prime minister promised a show of force. “Britain will not allow a culture of fear to take over the streets, Prime Minister David Cameron insisted Wednesday, saying police have drawn up contingency plans to use water cannons if necessary,” NPR reported this morning. “We will do whatever is necessary to restore law and order onto our streets,” Cameron was quoted as saying in a televised statement. “Nothing is off the table.”
On the Bright Side …
Not everyone was freaking out. “Hundreds of people gathered in Twitter-organized crews to sweep up broken glass, clean vandalized buildings and show the world — and themselves — that their city is about more than mindless destruction,” The Associated Press reported. “By the time the volunteers gathered in Camden, most of the shattered glass had been swept up, the damaged windows patched. A group headed by subway for the worse-hit Clapham area across town. If violence strikes again, they said, they would do it again on Wednesday.”