Lolo Jones missed a 2008 Olympic gold medal by a little more than 20 meters, crashing into the second-to-last barrier while leading the 100-meter hurdles final. She came away with nothing. Sanya Richards-Ross and Jeremy Wariner both faded in the homestretch of the 400 meters; Richards-Ross took a bronze and Wariner a silver (to go with his 2004 gold). Allyson Felix lost a battle with Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica in the 200 and later wept with the silver medal around her neck. All expected better.
By the nature of their sport, redemption takes four years of small steps, with the next Olympics looming in the distance. Jones has a promotional wristband in her home, inscribed LONDON 2012. Felix says, "The Olympics are always there." Last weekend at the USA Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, all four reached the halfway point on the journey back. Some are closer than others to another shot at gold.
Jones, 27, dominated the 100-meter hurdles and was embraced by fans in the city in which she was raised. It was an important step because she was injured in 2009. "People were saying, 'She'll never be on top again,' " says Jones.
Despite her Olympic crash, Jones's sponsorship contract was renewed by Asics and last winter she won the world indoor title in the 60-meter hurdles. "You can't replay history," says Jones's sister, Angelia Jefferson. "But she was so close in Beijing. It's her ultimate goal to get back to the Olympics and make it happen this time."
Felix, too, won a title in Des Moines, although it was in the 100 meters, a race that's shorter than her best distances. "Working on my start," said Felix, 24. On June 12 she lost a close 200 to Campbell-Brown in New York City. The two remain on a collision course for 2012.
Richards-Ross (who married New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross in February) and Wariner left Iowa less encouraged. Richards-Ross ran two rounds in the 400 and then withdrew with a nagging high right quadriceps injury and was expected to undergo testing this week. "This weekend was the first time she's tried to really sprint on it, and she just couldn't get anything out of the leg," said Richards-Ross's coach, Clyde Hart.
Wariner ran only 150 meters of the 400-meter final in Des Moines before falling to the track with a pain in his right hip. Wariner had been optimistic after surgery last fall to remove a cyst from his left knee, but now steps backward again, his Olympic clock inexorably ticking.
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Best in Show
Three champions at the nationals stood out above the rest:
Chaunte Lowe Broke the U.S. high jump record she set in May with a leap of 6'8¾". Only seven women in history have jumped higher. Lowe also finished second in the long jump. Bonus: She has a wide array of celebratory dance moves.
Kara Patterson Crushed Kim Kreiner's three-year-old U.S. javelin record by more than eight feet with a throw of 218'9". The mark moves Patterson (below) within range of the world's best in an event that has had no U.S. Olympic medal contenders since Kate (the Great) Schmidt won bronze in 1972 and '76.
David Oliver Won the 110-meter hurdles in 12.93 seconds, tying him with Renaldo Nehemiah as the seventh-fastest man in history. Oliver's mark was the best in the world so far this year.
Photographs by BILL FRAKES
IOWA CYCLONE Jones had a banner finish in Des Moines; Wariner (inset) could not go the distance.