Former LSU track star Lolo Jones begins her quest for Olympic glory at the Winter Games
Lolo Jones’ career has been defined by straight lines.
The unchanging lanes of the track. The mute challenge of the hurdles. The uncompromising authority of the finish line, the judge and jury of her every performance.
At the 2012 London Olympics, she narrowly missed a bronze medal in the 100-meter hurdles, finishing fourth. It left a bitter taste in her mouth after tripping on the second-to-last hurdle in the 2008 Beijing Olympics to finish out of the medals after leading with so little distance left to cover.
After she returned home, she found herself in Lake Placid, N.Y, training home of the U.S. bobsled team, underweight and, she admitted, depressed.
“I was devastated after the London Games, of coming up short yet again,” Jones said in an interview with U.S. Olympic sponsor BP. “I thought, ‘How can I pick myself up yet again, get myself remotivated?’ ”
After a decade of hurdles, the former LSU All-American needed a change.
Instead of going in a straight line, she needed to make a turn.
Tuesday, Jones will get all the twists and turns she could have ever craved. She will be the brakeman for the first two of four runs for the USA 3 two-woman bobsled in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Only the second athlete with Louisiana ties to compete in both the Summer and Winter games — the late Southern great Willie Davenport won a gold and two bronze medals in the men’s 110-meter hurdles from 1964-76 before competing in bobsled in 1980 — Jones will try to find the Olympic glory that has so far eluded the former two-time indoor world champion.
LSU track and field coach Dennis Shaver, still Jones’ mentor, admits the odds for a medal will be long. But Jones is nothing if not eager to try again. “There’s a favorite quote I have,” said Jones, 31. “A failure isn’t a failure if preps you for success tomorrow. Great failures or mishaps in life can prepare you for something amazing.”
“That’s why I’m here as a bobsled athlete. I’m not willing to give up. I believe my Summer Games have given me the absolute motivation to stand on that line and go so amazingly hard and make my country proud.”
Jones said her job is “to be the engine of the bobsled,” to use her track quickness to help driver Jazmine Fenlator get the USA 3 sled going as fast as she can — the target is the record of 5.19 seconds another U.S. team set at the Olympic track.
“At the finish line, it’s my job to pull the brakes,” she said. “The pilot’s job is to get us down safely and not crash us.”
Shaver said Jones’ hurdling skills transfer well to her bobsled task.
“Hurdling is nothing more than nine or 10 different accelerations down the track and maneuvering over the hurdles,” he said.
“With bobsled, it the same kind of acceleration mechanics when you’re trying to push the sled. The difference is, instead of just trying to push your own body mass, you are also pushing the sled.”
Shaver said he believes Jones would have tried bobsledding even if she had medaled in Beijing or London. The timing, two years before what is likely to be her last attempt to compete in a Summer Olympics at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, made it an even better opportunity.
“A little change in her annual routine was needed,” Shaver said. “If this was the year before Rio or the same year, I don’t think she would. But the way the calendar laid out for her in her career, this is her only opportunity before she moves through probably her last Olympic Games away from track for a little while.”
Whether on the track or a bobsled run, controversy seems to follow in Jones’ wake.
In track, some have labeled her the Anna Kournikova (an attractive Russian tennis player who became a celebrity despite never winning a professional singles title) of her sport, racking up endorsement deals and notoriety with slim results to show for it.
Jones grabbed what is essentially the last slot on the U.S. women’s bobsled team by being selected over two other contenders who were traditional bobsledders.
One of them, Katie Eberling, said there was an agenda to put Jones on the U.S. team, though Jones finished second twice in World Cup events with two other U.S. drivers. Eberling has since been selected as a U.S. team alternate and softened her tone.
“I had to move past the heartbreak and negativity and just realize that, if I don’t take this chance to enjoy it, I’ll regret it,” Eberling told The Associated Press.
Shaver said the hard feelings surrounding Jones’ selection are understandable but unfounded.
“In track and field, you go to the Olympic trials and, if you’re in the top three, you’re on the team,” he said. “There’s no subjectivity to it whatsoever.
“Bobsled is the compilation of all kinds of data over the entire training year that goes into making the decision. But there is probably also that subjective part of it — like what kind of Olympic experiences does this person have? And Lolo has been in (two) Olympic Games.
“When you combine the objective statistical information and take the other things into account that I mentioned, that gives her an edge over a lot other athletes. That’s why they selected her.”
Jones and Fenlator will make two runs starting at 9:15 a.m. CST Tuesday and two more starting at 10:15 a.m. Wednesday. The total time of all four runs determines the standings.
The women’s bobsled competition can be seen live both days online at NBCOlympics.com, Tuesday at 11 a.m. on the NBC Sports Network and tape-delayed on NBC’s prime time coverage.
Whatever happens, Jones seems prepared for the outcome.
“What fuels me is I want to continually get better,” Jones said in the BP interview. “Success for me is not giving up on my dreams. If I have a closed door, I’m going to find an open window somewhere.”