But the cameras will find Jones.
Even though Bruce Jenner and the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” camera crew are in town, Jones is still among the biggest stars at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.
Though she’s nearly four years removed from her best time, Jones’s celebrity has skyrocketed in recent weeks, ever since the 29-year old hurdler told reporter Mary Carillo on HBO’s “Real Sports” last month that maintaining her virginity is “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“Harder than training for the Olympics, harder than graduating from college has been trying to stay a virgin for marriage,” she said.
Suddenly, Jones’s star transcended sports. She became fodder for TMZ and was fielding messages via Twitter from actor Gabrielle Union, athlete Terrell Owens and reality star Donald Trump.
“It’s just been crazy,” said Brandon Swibel, her marketing agent.
She’s scheduled to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on Monday, two days after the 100-meter hurdles finals. She’s hoping she’ll have good news to share, but there’s no guarantee, as Jones must survive one of the most competitive events at these trials.
Only the top three finishers will earn spots on the Olympics team. Eight other Americans have posted faster times than Jones this season, and five others are within six-hundredths of a second of her.
Jones’s first run at these trials provided cause for concern. She finished third in her quarterfinal heat Friday evening with a time of 13.01 seconds. Of the 21 hurdlers who advanced to Saturday’s semifinals, Jones had posted only the 15th-best time.
“I just know there’s a lot of room for improvement,” she said following her race.
Regardless, the spotlight gravitates toward Jones’s story: Her mother juggled jobs to keep her six children fed. Jones attended eight schools in eight years, and at one point the family lived in the basement of a Salvation Army church. Still, Jones’s Olympic dream never wavered.
Mix in her openness discussing her Christian faith and her virginity, and brand experts say Jones brings an unbeatable formula to potential sponsors and fans alike.
“There’s a tradition around identifying personalities who are very much creatures of a particular Olympic period,” said Adam Hanft, an accomplished marketing veteran who has worked with clients as varied as Sony and Match.com. “She could have the perfect storm of media hunger and a unique story in our hypersexualized environment.”
Hanft explains that while Jones’s personal back story connects easily with people, her virginity attracts an even broader audience. As with Tim Tebow and his large following, fans root for the person more than the athlete, and Jones’s virginity invites in a large number who might otherwise tune out sports.