Lolo Jones has been training for bobsled since middle school. She just didn’t know it at the time.
The 31-year-old, who competed in the 100-meter hurdles in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Summer Olympics, started competing in bobsled as a pusher after failing to earn a medal. Now Jones hopes to earn a spot on the U.S. bobsled team that will be competing in next month’s Sochi Winter Olympics.
Jones’s first track coach, Phillip Ferguson, who has known her since she was 14 years old, said many of the skills the two-time Olympian has from training in track should carry over to bobsled.
“Her position on that bobsled is to get it moving, and in the starting position in track and field, you push out of those blocks at a 45-degree angle, which is almost the same angle you’re pushing the bobsled,” said Ferguson, a youth track coach in Des Moines, Iowa. “You really have to drive hard, get your knees up, and drive to push against that ground and push the sled down the track, and that’s similar to a lot of the training we do to get kids to feel that push action coming out of the blocks.”
Jones will race this weekend in Igls, Austria, the final competition before the team selects the three women who will be pushers in Sochi. There are five women, including Jones, with strong chances of making the team.
Jones will learn if she makes the U.S. team on Sunday, as she races with pilot Jazmine Fenlator. The U.S. coaches will make the selection based on a number of factors, but there are no trials like there are in track and field.
With Jones competing in a new sport, media attention has followed. The transition from the Summer Olympics to the Winter Olympics in two years has prompted some to speculate that the famed athlete wants to remain in the public eye. It’s a notion that Jones roundly rejects.
“I'm so tired of hearing people say this is about the limelight,” said Jones to the Associated Press. “So you're tired of hearing somebody who is literally pursuing their dream and they've had knocks, they've been knocked down, they've been publicly humiliated and yet they still are fighting so hard for this silly medal. You're knocking that? You're knocking somebody that will not give up? That, in my eyes, is what I don't understand.”
Jones’s two trips to the Summer Olympics ended in disappointment. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she clipped a hurdle on her penultimate jump, and in the London 2012 Olympics, she finished fourth.
But since she joined the U.S. bobsled team in October 2012, Jones has enjoyed success. She won World Cup medals in both of her seasons thus far, and was a member of the U.S. team that won gold at the 2013 FIBT World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
“I can see why she chose this sport to get a break from track and field,” Ferguson said. “She’s always pushed to try to be the best. Losing wasn’t a good thing for her, meaning she always strived to be the best she could be. It would take a couple hours if she lost a race or if she didn’t do as well as she thought she should’ve before she could get it together and talk to people.
“I work with a lot of young people, and very seldom do you find young people that stay focused like she did. She enjoyed doing what she was doing. Even though it was hard work, she enjoyed it, she couldn’t wait to come up the next day to train again.”
Jones isn’t the first high-profile athlete to venture into bobsled competition. At the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, NFL Pro Bowl running back Herschel Walker competed in the two-man bobsled team. Walker, who was known for his intense training regimen, failed to put the U.S. into medal contention, as he and teammate Brian Shimer placed seventh.
There will be no shortage of tough competitors in Sochi. Canadian Kailie Humphries will defend her gold medal from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, while Germany’s Sandra Kiriasis and Cathleen Martini also enter as medal frontrunners.
The competition begins on Feb. 18, and will consist of four runs over two days. The lowest combined times for all four runs decide the medal winners.
“The determination in me, I wish people could see that,” said Jones. “It's not a gimmick. It's not for publicity. It never was. It's always been about me achieving a dream and being able to tell that story down the road, that I never gave up and I fought hard.
“I want that moment where, for me, I can say it was all worth it.”