Dawn Harper won the gold medal in the 100m hurdles at the 2008 Olympics. She won the silver this week in London. Yet in many ways, she lost to her countrywoman Lolo Jones. And it’s become evident that Harper doesn’t know how to be a gracious loser. Harper was the reigning Olympic champ but given the level of media coverage given to Lolo Jones, many incorrectly thought Jones had a better chance of medaling than Harper did.
The Harper/Jones controversy reared its ugly head some time before the Olympics. She gave a television interview where she admitted to being confused about why Jones had more press coverage than she did, given her better stats. Harper has a point. As the reigning Olympic champion, she probably rightfully expected to get more media coverage than her compatriot. Some even pointed to colorism as a potential cause for the disparity in their publicity. Lolo has a compelling backstory of once being homeless, of living apart from her parents in high school so she could keep running, and a high sympathy factor giving her tragic fall in the 2008 Olympics where she was a favorite. But Dawn won her Olympic gold in shoes that she borrowed because she didn’t have a sponsor. Dawn also had a tough upbringing. She’s alluded to it in interviews but implied that she’d rather protect her family’s privacy than use their struggles to gain publicity. A not-so-subtle dig at Lolo, perhaps?
So while Lolo finished seventh to Dawn’s first in Bejing; in terms of public sentiment, Dawn was the loser. Lolo went on to appear in ESPN’s 2009 Body Issue. She had an HBO special earlier this year, where she (in)famously revealed she’s a virgin. She gained endorsements from Oakley and Red Bull. She appeared on the Leno Show and the cover of Time Magazine, and was featured heavily in other media outlets. Dawn Harper, not so much. And Dawn’s still mad about it.
In an interview that surfaced this morning, Harper and 100 m hurdles bronze medalist Kellie Wells seemed to taking shots at Lolo. Ostensibly, this interview should have been about their great performance in London. Admittedly, the interviewer guided them away from that by asking Harper about not getting enough respect. But Harper fell right into the trap. Despite the fact that her PR agent told her not to answer those kinds of questions, she gave quite an animated response alluding to her discontent over the coverage of Jones, ending with a resounding “Boom, just like that!”
[I can’t embed the video but the video is worth watching to see the body language http://www.businessinsider.com/harper-wells-lolo-jones-interview-2012-8]
Dawn is entitled to her anger, resentment and disappointment. But this was not the way to express it. Whatever personal issues she’s facing with Lolo should have been handled privately. Though the hurdles are not a team sport, they still went to London to represent their country together. It wouldn’t have killed her to show a little team spirit this morning rather than engage in petty diatribe about her colleague. Perhaps in the moment she thought she could expose Lolo’s flaws, or even those of the media but really all she did was set up more media interest in Lolo. The title of the piece surrounding her interview isn’t even Dawn Harper says … it’s Two American Hurdlers Ripped Lolo Jones… The reality is that in this narrative, Lolo is the star of the show. Harper and her team could attempt various strategies to change that, but this should not have been one of them.
Life is not always fair. The sad reality for Harper is that in a few months time the average American probably will not remember her name. But it’s likely they’ll remember Lolo.
Can Harper rightfully blame the media for bias and colorism? Yes.
Is she entitled to dislike Lolo? Sure. We have no clue what’s going on behind the scenes.
Should she have handled this interview in this way? Absolutely not. She played right into the media’s hands and helped to promote the very athlete she was trying to deride. Instead of discussing Dawn Harper’s wonderful record and two Olympic medals, the discussion is about how bitter and petty she is. And for this particular loss, she can blame herself.