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Lolo Jones, interviewed after her disappointing finish out of the medals in the 100m hurdles, said she could almost feel the gold medal around her neck. That feeling was the closest she would ever come to the Olympic glory she sought in Beijing. Jones was in the lead and pulling away when she hooked her right foot on the ninth hurdle and broke stride, falling from first place to seventh place, from gold medalist to also ran, in a split second. She fell to her knees at the finish line in obvious and understandable misery at this turn of events. She gave a very gracious and even cheerful interview to the NBC sportscaster upon leaving the track, smiling gamely and explaining the facts of life as a hurdler. “It was like racing a car at max velocity. When you hit a curve, you either maintain control or you crash and burn,” Jones said. “Today, I crashed and burned. I’m shocked and sad. But I’m happy for the girls.” She was the portrait of sportsmanship and dignity during her interview, smiling and hugging the winners as they passed by. Later, the NBC cameras would find her, alone under the bleachers, leaning against the wall, head thrown back, eyes closed tight in frustration and grief, tears streaming down her face. But for the world, she was gracious.

Only moments before, Sanya Richards had tasted similiar dissapointment, after blasting out of the blocks in the 400m and leading the race coming out of the turn. With only 80 meters left, Richards hamstring tightened on her and she dropped out of gear, quickly passed by two other runners and dropped from first to third, again in a mere matter of seconds. Crossing the finish line, she dropped to her knees with the realization that the gold medal was lost. “I don’t want to tell you what I’m thinking right now, because it’s not positive. I feel so betrayed by my body once again and it’s just such a tough break for me. “I have a really strong faith and I know that everything happens for a reason. I just don’t know what this one is for. I don’t know what lesson I have left to learn.”

During her interview after leaving the track following her race, she was asked about taking up the American flag for a victory lap despite the fact that her heart was clearly broken at winning the bronze and not the gold after coming so close. She responded “Its not about me, its about representing my country“. After the race, Richards could be found in the bleachers, crying into her cell phone, most likely being consoled by her fiance Eric Ross. She would later accept the bronze medal with a heavy heart.

Both of these women experienced the most crushing of dissapointments. Richards, betrayed by her body once again and losing a gold within her grasp, Jones falling victim to a mental mistake and perhaps losing her one and only opportunity for Olympic glory in life. Both of them handled these moments of globally viewed and recorded defeat with a great deal of courage, grace and even selflessness. It is true that the measure of Olympic greatness is victory, but there is perhaps no more harrowing test of the spirit of a true Olympian than the tast of bitter defeat. Adversity does not build character, it reveals it and these women, even in these terrible moments, exhibited great courage and character while at their lowest point in front of the entire world. I know that for them it is today an immaterial and irrevelant consolation. The Olympics let us vicariously experience the emotions of the contest as they play across the hearts and minds of Olympians like Sanya Richards and Lolo Jones. Watching them hold their heads up and be gracious in one moment and then in another shed bitter, bitter tears, I felt the agony of defeat.

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