Wednesday, July 2, 2008

And now for something different...

EUGENE--We stopped by the Eugene Hilton this morning to sit in on a press conference featuring this year’s US and world indoor champion at the 60 meter hurdles LoLo Jones (left/photo by Paul Merca) and reigning Olympic 100 meter hurdle champ Joanna Hayes.

If there was one thing that we took away from the press conference, it’s that it’s not easy being an up-and-coming athlete in the world of professional track and field.

Jones told the story of her first few years as a professional out of Louisiana State University, where she had a meager shoe contract with Nike (“$2000 plus equipment, and my agent didn’t even bother to take a cut of that!”) and had to support herself by working as a personal trainer at a gym, working as a hostess in a restaurant, and at Home Depot, in addition to finishing up school at LSU AND training.

After her breakout year in 2006, where she finished fifth in the USA nationals, and sixth in the IAAF World Athletics Finals in Stuttgart, earning her a number 7 world ranking, she was able to parlay that into a better shoe contract with Asics.

“It’s a big difference now that I have a better contract. I can pay for things like massages, and the chiropractor, and I don’t have to be on my feet working. I actually have a car now, where I used to get around with a scooter. My sole job is track.”

Despite the hardships she encountered in her first years as a pro, Jones, who also picked up an endorsement deal with Oakley, harbors no regrets about how she came through the ranks.

Hayes, who was a surprise winner of the 2004 Olympic title, went through some of the same struggles Jones encountered.

Originally a 400 hurdler coming out of UCLA in 1999, she made the world championship team that competed in Seville, Spain that season. After some injury problems, she worked for the Jackie Joyner Kersee foundation in East St. Louis, before returning to Los Angeles in December 2002.

Among the jobs she had upon her return to Los Angeles while trying to train from 2003-2004 were as a track coach at a middle school and a security guard coordinator.

Like Jones, she’s grateful for what she has, and appreciated the hard work, dedication and persistence she endured in the run-up to the 2004 Olympic Games, where she won the gold medal in the 100 hurdles,

One important thing Hayes loves to point out as she enters these Olympic Trials is that she sees herself as one of the underdogs, given that she hasn’t raced much over the last two years, due to injuries.

Hayes, whose father runs a homeless shelter, and whose mother is a substitute teacher, feels that she has no pressure on her going into the Trials.

However, she says that no matter what happens here, she feels that being happy is more important than money in the grand scheme of things.

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