She’s been dissected in the media and dissed by her own teammates. If that wasn’t bad enough, Jones failed to even medal in the 100-meter hurdles at the recent London Olympics after spending four years working to overcome her heartbreaking stumble in Beijing.
An over-the-top Olympic-style homecoming in her hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, was exactly what Jones needed.
An emotional Jones joined a cast of Iowa-based Olympians that included gymnast Gabby Douglas and wrestler Jake Varner, both gold medalists, in a raucous celebration on the campus of Drake University.
”To have this support … it’s definitely a light in a dark time,” Jones told a crowd of roughly 5,000 supporters.
The turmoil surrounding Jones ended up being one of the biggest story lines in London.
It started with published reports suggesting Jones was a shameless marketer of herself and more into her image than her sport, a charge she tearfully addressed during an interview on NBC’s ”Today” show.
Teammates Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, who won silver and bronze medals just ahead of Jones, went on TV and acknowledged their frustrations about Jones receiving far more media coverage than they did.
Jones hasn’t spoken to the pair since – and she said she had no interest whatsoever in playing the role of peacemaker.
”I’ve felt that resentment before and I’ve actually reached out to them before and, honestly, I thought the bridge was already mended,” Jones said. ”To see them break it and them blow it up, I honestly think that I’ve done my part.”
Jones added that, contrary to what some might think, she’d trade all the publicity in the world for the medal that painfully eluded her in Beijing and London.
”We don’t fight for fame. We don’t fight to be the most famous athlete. We fight to represent our country and get that medal and bring that medal back to Team USA. So, they did that and I’m kind of just shocked that they’re not happy with that, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t understand it,” Jones said of Harper and Wells.
Douglas had some mini dustups of her own in London, mainly about her pulled-back hairstyle and reports that her mother had recently filed for bankruptcy that surfaced during the Olympics.
But for the most part, the 16-year-old Douglas is living in the glorious whirlwind that comes with being America’s newest gymnastics sweetheart.
Douglas, who moved to West Des Moines two years ago to train with coach Liang Chow, received the loudest cheers of all the athletes upon being introduced to the crowd.
Douglas’s hair was down – for those who were wondering – and her now-famous smile hardly ever left her face.
Douglas said she’s able to keep smiling in both good times and bad by staying focused only on positive things.
”You still can’t escape the negative comments. It’s like anything, about your hair, about your parents, about anything. You just have to learn how to put it to the side,” Douglas said. ”You can’t really dwell on the negative side. You have so much positive, good things going on over here – why would you want to drag yourself, pull yourself over to the negative side?”
Douglas’s ability to handle the intense scrutiny she faced wasn’t lost on Jones, who aside from breaking down briefly while on stage was as relaxed and charismatic as ever.
Jones praised Douglas for the way she conducted herself in the spotlight, even looking to the younger Douglas for pointers.
”I was already picking up stuff with how she was dealing with (it), like how to handle my own kind of controversies,” Jones said. ”We both kind of talked backlash for weird, odd reasons. You know, both of our looks. I just thought that was kind of crazy.”