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Lolo Jones’ marketing plan at London Games only works if someone is looking and listening

Lolo Jones will race in the 100m hurdles.She has posed nude for ESPN the Magazine and the cover of Outside magazine wearing a bathing suit made of nothing but strategically placed ribbon

Now, before drawing any conclusions, Lolo Jones has also proclaimed herself to be a 30-year-old virgin and a Christian. The contradictions may be puzzling but they also explain something about the person behind the image.

The American hurdler is one of those athletes who is long on style but short on achievement. A pretty loser can still look good.

Jones has a slim chance of reaching the podium in the 100-metre hurdles but still has received greater publicity than many other U.S. track and field athletes at the London Olympics.

[Slideshow: The American hurdler]

"It all sends the wrong message," said Janice Forsyth, the director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario.

"It's really a sad commentary on the industry Lolo is in," Forsyth told The New York Times. "Limited opportunities are there for women to gain a foothold unless they sell themselves as sex kittens or virgins for sale.

"I don't know if this is Lolo being Lolo or part of a marketing scheme to remain relevant in an Olympic industry where if you are not the Olympic champion, you are nothing."

Contrast Jones with Dawn Harper, the reigning Olympic champion from the United States. She grew up in tattered East St. Louis, Ill. In Beijing, Harper had no shoe endorsement, so she ran and won in a pair of borrowed spikes.

Still, all anyone asks about is Jones.

[Related: 'Blade Runner' Pistorious fails to qualify for 400m final]

Harper said she's surprised by the extent to which Jones has revealed details about her own dissolute childhood in Des Moines. Her father spent time in prison. Her family lived for a period in a Salvation Army basement. She had a brief and desperate career as a child shoplifter.

"I've had family issues as well, but I'm not willing to say all of them just so it can be in the papers," Harper said. "I don't want that for myself or my family."

Jones finished seventh at the Beijing Games after hitting the ninth of 10 hurdles. She barely made the 2012 Olympic team with a third-place finish at the U.S. trials. There are 19 hurdlers internationally who have posted faster times this year than Jones's best.

The hurdles heats begin Monday. Also competing are Canadians Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., Phylicia George of Markham, Ont., and Nikkita Holder of Pickering, Ont.

Jones isn't the only athlete to bank on her appearance. Anna Kournikova was more famous for her looks than her tennis skills.

The marketing strategy only works because the public looks at the pictures and buys the products being endorsed.

So really, who is to blame?

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