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When Olympic hurdler Dawn Harper added a silver medal in the 100-meter race to her 2008 gold yesterday, she celebrated like she had won first place again. It was only later that she and her teammate Kellie Wells, who won bronze, expressed their disappointment that media attention has focused so heavily on Lolo Jones, the teammate they both outran and who took fourth place.
In an NBC interview that aired immediately after the race, Harper and Wells both expressed their gratitude to God for having made it to the games and to the medal stand. Last night Wells tweeted, “God has gotten me to this point. he brought me to my coach, my fam, friends, support systems. I am forever astonished by his wonders.” And, in an undated post published by Athletes in Action, she said, “I’ve been through a lot of stuff in life and could have ended up in terrible places if it wasn’t for God choosing me, and choosing my life, and placing me in a good environment. So I just trust Him, and I love Him. I know I haven’t always been this – I haven’t always been good. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody sins. But I realize how good God is to me, when He doesn’t really have to be. He set a plan for us, we have a book (the Bible) that tells us exactly how to live, and how life is supposed to be. It’s really hard to follow all the time. But God keeps me when I haven’t kept myself. And that’s an amazing feeling.”
Wells was sexually abused and raped by her stepfather, according to news reports. Then both he and her mother were killed in a car crash. “I know my story is very common to a lot of people, and it’s swept under the rug a lot,” Wells told The Telegraph. “If I can help at least one person and show you don’t have to be a product of your environment, you don’t have to keep secrets, and you don’t have to hide, that would be amazing.”
Harper talked about her faith journey in an interview with Beliefnet blogger Chad Bonham and explained the gospel’s importance in her life in a video produced by Athletes in Action. But when she and Wells were asked by NBC Sports this morning if they were getting enough respect for their accomplishments, Harper said that after her 2008 win over Jones, she felt as if she and her story had been pushed aside in favor of Jones’. “That hurt. It did. It hurt my feelings. But I feel as if I showed I can deal with the pressure, I came back, and I think you kinda got to respect it a little bit now,” she said.
“On the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed. And that’s all that really needs to be said,” added Wells.
Lest one think Harper and Wells are poor winners, ESPN’s Jim Caple said today that it isn’t so and concluded that Harper’s assessment is correct. USA Today, for example, headlined and led its article on yesterday’s race with Jones’ “heartbreak.”
“Despite losing the gold medal to Australia’s Sally Pearson by two-hundredths of a second, Harper was about as happy as an athlete can be after her race. She joked, she laughed, she smiled. She spoke proudly of her performance: ‘I was pretty darn fast today.’ She talked about enjoying the entire Olympic experience rather than focusing so much on the medals that she lost track of everything else. She even talked about throwing a party for her hometown,” said Caple.
Harper told him that her public relations agent advised her not to talk about the preferential media attention given to Jones, but she wanted to “be real” with her fans. “I’ve put so much out there and sacrificed so much, I feel like my life/story has kind of been trampled on for the last four years,” said Harper, who, like Jones, overcame “humble beginnings” and injury to become an Olympian.
However, asked in a pre-race interview with The Washington Post if all the attention focused on Jones’ was frustrating, Harper cited her faith, saying, “At one point, it was. I don’t want to lie and say that it wasn’t. . . . I have dropped to my knees and just prayed about it and said, ‘I know that I’m blessed just to be here.’”
Jones, meanwhile, was dealing not only with her loss, but also with hurt feelings from a scathing New York Times article about her that was published August 4, just days before the race. “They should be supporting our U.S. Olympic athletes and instead they just ripped me to shreds,” Jones this morning. “I worked six days a week, every day, for four years for a 12-second race and the fact that they just tore me apart, which is heartbreaking. … I have the American record. I am the American record holder indoors, I have two world indoor titles. Just because I don’t boast about these things, I don’t think I should be ripped apart by media. I laid it out there, fought hard for my country and it’s just a shame that I have to deal with so much backlash when I’m already so brokenhearted as it is.”
Should these Christian women do a better job of publicly supporting each other no matter what draws the media spotlight or is Harper right to complain?