With the London Games well in our rearview mirrors, all eyes are on Sochi, Russia - site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. And once again, two-time Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones is in the spotlight.
On Thursday, the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation announced that Jones had qualified for the U.S. national bobsled team. Though she only began practicing the sport about three weeks ago, Jones was one of 24 athletes named to the team, giving her the chance to vie for a spot on the World Cup circuit this winter and, possibly, represent the United States at the 2014 Sochi Games.
It's been a rocky few months for the controversial Jones, who has been criticized by many - including some of her track teammates - for the enormous attention she generates and how that attention isn't always in line with accomplishment. The 30 year-old was the gold-medal favorite before hitting a hurdle and finishing seventh at Beijing in 2008, then managed only a fourth-place finish in London this summer.
Credit Image: © Donald Page/ZUMAPRESS.com
On the homepage of her website RunLoloRun Jones writes: "I'm inspired by failure. The process of defeat – picking yourself back up again is the hardest thing in the world"
Jones was one of 16 women who earned tryouts to be a push athlete for the bobsled team. U.S women's bobsled coach Todd Hays set this idea in motion when he invited Jones and Olympic sprint gold medalist Tianna Madison to the push championships earlier this month.
Hays wanted to have accomplished athletes around his bobsled team to raise morale, and also wanted to see if he could strike gold by tapping into the track world – as bobsled has done in the past – to find someone strong and speedy enough to push sleds.
Push athletes are those who help get the sled moving down the icy chute, then jump into the back seat for the bumpy ride to the finish. Though it may seem odd, it's not that unusual for an athlete to pick up a second Olympic sport or compete in both the Summer and Winter Games.
"The obvious is their athleticism and that's why we invited them here," Hays said. "The other incredible quality about them, which was not known to me until they got here, was how competitive and dedicated they are in their pursuit of athletic excellence. They're just great competitors and have become students of the game, just absolutely driven to succeed in whatever they try."
Arriving in Lake Placid to train with the bobsled team, Jones has tried to keep a low profile, even asking her new teammates if they're comfortable having her around.The answer has been a resounding yes.
"I didn't have a lot of time to get to know Lolo through the media," Hays said. "These three weeks, I've gotten to know her as an athlete. And she surprised me every day with how dedicated she is. The one word I keep coming back to is, she's such a competitor. She cannot accept not being good at something. She gets up earlier than everybody else, goes to bed later, constantly trying to get better."
In additon to Jones and Madison, the other women named as push athletes include 2010 Olympic bobsledder Emily Azevedo, world championship medalist Katie Eberling, Lake Placid start-record-holder Aja Evans and Cal athlete Cherrelle Garrett. Evans and Garrett each are track and field athletes, as well.
The first-time bobsledder called her new sport "a breath of fresh air -- cool, very cool, cold air," even though she said she was ready to quit the first time down the mountain. She remembers looking around for the ambulance, just in case. A few runs later, she was hooked.
Jones still plans to compete in hurdles at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Only now, a trip to Sochi might come first. As of now, she's planning to take part in the next outdoor track season like usual. She's passing on the indoor track season to pursue the bobsled idea.
"I just came out here and kind of needed to get away from track for a bit, kind of wanted to get some motivation," Jones said. "I thought coming out here with the other girls that we could help each other, we could benefit from one another. I could help them with their speed and they could help me with my strength. And just being around them, hearing their goals gave me new goals and refreshed me."
One of the things Jones said attracted her to bobsledding was that, traditionally, it's the pilot – not the push athlete – who gets all the attention after races. Jones, however, is a media magnet and prolific Tweeter (with almost 350K followers) so it will be interesting to see how low a profile she can keep during the season.
World Cup racing for bobsled and skeleton opens in Lake Placid on Nov. 8. Can't wait? Check out the movie "Cool Runnings" in the meantime.
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