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How the Internet made Michelle Jenneke an international sex symbol

How a hurdler's warm-up dance became a viral video that spawned a worldwide phenomenon.


Fidel Martinez


Posted on Feb 14, 2013   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 12:56 am CDT

Australian hurdler Michelle Jenneke was the biggest winner at the IAAF World Junior Championships held in Barcelona on July 15, 2012. Not because of what she did on the track but what she did on the starting line.

That day, an Al Jazeera cameraman caught the bubbly 19-year-old warming up prior to her heat race. Jenneke was hopping and dancing, flashing a smile for the camera. Oh yeah, and then she smoked her competition. 

Jenneke ended up not placing at the WJC—she finished fifth in the 100-meter hurdles—but she became an immediate viral sensation thanks entirely to a portion of the aforementioned video, set to Sabrina’s “Boys (Summertime Love),” was uploaded to YouTube by user Pr0nfessor on July 19.

In the seven months since it’s been online, that video has amassed more than 21 million views. It also gave birth to the Jenneke meme, which manifested itself on Reddit and imageboard Canvas.

But that wasn’t the end of the road for Jenneke’s internet fame. Whereas most memes usually die within weeks (sometimes within days if we’re lucky), this one reared its cheery, dancing head once again in December 2012, when men’s site The Chive released a video that merged the “forever alone” meme with the charming Australian hurdler. 

As of this writing, that clip has been viewed close to 9 million times. The Internet wasn’t going to forget Jenneke.

Which brings us up to date. Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated released its annual swimsuit issue, an edition put out by the publication since 1964 to offer their readers something to look forward to during a lull in the sports calendar (after the Super Bowl and right before baseball’s spring training). 

This year, you guessed it: Michelle Jenneke is  in it.

The Australian native joined the likes of Kate Upton and Irina Shayk after editor M.J. Day came across the original video. Day selected Jenneke for a pictorial called “The Viral Athlete.”

Michelle Jenneke may have started off as just another Olympic hopeful. Now, thanks to the Internet, she’s found a second career as a bona fide international sex symbol.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story claimed Jenneke was on the cover of the swimsuit issue. In fact, the cover went to American supermodel Kate Upton for the second year in a row. Jenneke does, however, have her own swimsuit pictorial in the issue.

Photo via Singapore2010/Flickr

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*First Published: Feb 14, 2013, 10:24 am CST