Seven Olympians to Watch
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.