LONDON – While Leo Manzano blazed down the homestretch of the 1500 meters to go from sixth place to second to become the first U.S. Olympic medalist at the distance since Jim Ryun 44 years ago, the media was huddled around Lolo Jones backstage.
Jones had just placed fourth in the 100-meter hurdles and had little incentive to spend much time with the press that had glorified her over the past several months and gutted her in the last few days.
But sometimes the grace of a champion shines brighter in defeat than it does with a medal.
“There was a lot riding on this race,” she said.
She wanted to prove to meet promoters, fans – and most of all herself – that she could run fast and error-free, unlike four years ago in Beijing where Jones was clearly headed for gold, then clipped the second-to-last hurdle and stumbled to seventh place.
“I’m pleased to say I can lift my head up a little higher,” Jones said after running faster than she had all season (12.58 seconds) albeit .23 seconds behind Australian gold medalist Sally Pearson and Americans Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells who went 2-3 with personal bests of 12.37 and 12.48.
“At least this time it was a clean, smooth race. I ran a season’s best so it was the best I can do.”
“Obviously, I’m crushed,” she said next, her voice breaking. “I just felt it was a hard year. I feel like I’ve just been kind of barely getting through the season.”
Jones was trying to remain upbeat yet honest at the same time.
Eleven months ago, she had back surgery to repair tethered spinal cord syndrome and could barely get out of bed for a month, no less walk to the end of her driveway.
On Sunday, she celebrated her 30th birthday, the same day a critical story about her in “The New York Times” lit up the running chat rooms.
“Mentally, I’ve had some big setbacks,” she said, although not specifically referring to the article she has yet to read. “It was a great race considering… hamstring injuries and [back] surgery. I just wish I could’ve done better.
“In ’08 I tasted the medal, and here, I was [fighting] to get through.”
In the semifinals earlier in the evening, Jones was the last to qualify for the eight-woman final and breezed past the interview area like she had to catch a train.
She only had about an hour before the final in which she would try to erase the memory of the Beijing blunder.
When it was over, she said, “Fourth is the hardest spot.”
“People talking about me can have their laugh,” she said.
But Jones is not done.
“No, no, no,” she said. “I’ve always wanted Rio  to be my last Olympics. I’ve said that even before coming here.”
MEN’S 1500m SILVER: As mentioned, Leonel Manzano ended the U.S. medal drought in the men’s 1500m with a blazing late kick that the 5-foot-5, 122 lb. Texan is known for. His time of 3 minutes, 34.79 seconds was the fastest he’d run all season, and good for silver behind Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi whom had initially been thrown out of the Games for not giving his best effort in an 800m heat, and was later reinstated because he was thought to have been injured. Twenty-two-year-old Matt Centrowitz placed fourth (3:35.17), just four-hundredths of a second behind bronze medalist Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco. “I was definitely going for the win,” said Centrowitz whose father competed in the same event at the 1976 Montreal Games. When asked about the pace, Manzano said, “To me, the race felt really fast. I don’t know if it was because I was getting bumped around. I tried to focus on staying calm.”
MEN’S HIGH JUMP SILVER: In the men’s high jump, the 2011 world champion Jesse Williams made an early exit when he failed to clear 2.29 meters. His season’s best had been 2.36 and he was favored to bring the U.S. its first Olympic high jump gold medal since Charles Austin in 1996. Instead, 21-year-old Erik Kynard took the silver for the U.S. by clearing 2.33 while wearing American flag socks. Only Russia’s Ivan Ukhov jumped higher (2.38). Afterwards, Kynard told TeamUSA.org “I fell a little short” of his own expectations. “I wanted to win, but I’m not going home empty handed.” He had seen what happened to Williams. “It put more pressure on me. Oh my goodness! Jesse’s out. Then Jamie [Nieto] went out. Now it’s just me. You know, it’s three generations out there.” Nieto was born in ’76, Williams in ’83, and Kynard in ’91. They also share the same coach, Cliff Rovelto (director of track & field at Kansas State).
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.