Lolo Jones, at 41, resurfaces at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials

EUGENE, Ore. — The oldest hurdler at the U.S. Olympic Trials cried herself to sleep the night before her opening race.

An ill-timed hamstring tear halted Lolo Jones’ training for six weeks and left her fearful that she wouldn’t be able to compete.

Jones tested her hamstring last Saturday. It seized up after she cleared six hurdles.

Jones tried again Thursday. This time, she didn’t even make it that far before the pain forced her to stop.

It took more than courage and determination for Jones to will herself to the starting line Friday night for her 100-meter hurdles preliminary heat. The 41-year-old credited the anti-inflammatory drug administered by her medical team.

“Toradol," she deadpanned. “The official sponsor of 40-year- olds!”

Those circumstances help explain why Jones beamed with pride after her heat despite falling behind her fellow competitors almost as soon as the starting gun fired. It was an achievement for her to cross the finish line in 14.86 seconds even if that was almost two seconds slower than the times she was running before her injury.

Jones admitted she “ran a fearful race” because she didn’t want to risk reinjuring her hamstring. The onetime brakewoman on the U.S. national bobsled team described Friday’s heat as scarier than careening down a twisting, icy track at 90 miles per hour.

“That’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my career,” Jones said. “I know that sounds insane, but I would have taken a bobsled crash any day over that.”

Another chance to compete awaits Jones on Saturday night despite her distant last-place finish. All 27 hurdlers who completed Friday’s preliminary heats advanced to the semifinals as a result of the expanded qualifying format and multiple injured athletes choosing not to run.

Jun 28, 2024; Eugene, OR, USA; Lolo Jones runs in a women's 100m hurdles heat during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 28, 2024; Eugene, OR, USA; Lolo Jones runs in a women's 100m hurdles heat during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“If I wake up tomorrow and I don’t need my cane, we’re going!” quipped Jones, poking fun at the fact that some of her competitors weren’t even born yet when she first showed up to Olympic Trials two decades ago.

Though Jones failed to qualify for the Olympics in 2004, she was the favorite to claim gold four years later in Beijing. She was pulling away from the field in the 100-meter hurdles final when she clipped the ninth hurdle and stumbled, leaving her pounding the ground in frustration after her seventh-place finish.

Jones qualified for the London Olympics four years later but fell short in her quest to win her first medal, settling for fourth in the 100 hurdles final. She did not make the U.S. teams for the 2013 or 2015 World Championships, nor did she run at the 2016 Olympic Trials.

By then, Jones had gone from dabbling in bobsled to pursuing it with the same passion that she previously displayed in the hurdles. She represented the U.S. at the Sochi Olympics and was part of teams that won a pair of World Championship gold medals.

When USA Bobsled officials left her off the 2022 Olympic team, Jones seethed over the snub. She felt that “politics” contributed to her exclusion, that she was “pushed out” because of her age.

The stubborn unwillingness to allow anyone else to dictate how her athletic career would end led Jones back to the sport that first catapulted her to stardom. It wasn’t enough for Jones to merely begin training for the 100 hurdles again. She set the audacious goal of becoming the first hurdler in her 40s ever to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials

In April, Jones twice ran comfortably under the 13.25-second Olympic qualifying standard, dropping a time of 13.11 seconds at a meet in Gainesville and eclipsing that by a hundredth of a second two weeks later at the Drake Relays. Both times were the fastest she had run since 2015.

“It was just nice to prove to myself that I still had what it takes,” Jones said.

That Jones wasn’t healthy enough to improve on those times at Trials is disappointing but she chooses not to focus on that. She’s thankful for the chance to inspire other athletes and to hear one more roar from the track-savvy Hayward Field crowd.

“I’m so grateful for everyone who cheered for me,” Jones said. “It had been so long that I thought people might have forgotten. It means the world to me to have people remember me and shout my name.”