Inside Lolo Jones' Quest to Make the 2014 US Olympic Bobsled Team

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Inside Lolo Jones' Quest to Make the 2014 US Olympic Bobsled Team
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You may think you know Lolo Jones.

After all, you probably already know about her two gold medals at the World Indoor Championships in the 60-meter hurdles, her two stints as a Summer Olympian on the track and field team, her active and revealing social media presence and her shocking confession prior to the 2012 London Olympics that she was (and is) still a virgin.

But now, she wants you to get to know her as something else altogether: a Winter Olympian.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

After two seasons as a member of the United States bobsled team, Jones will have one last chance to impress the Olympic selection team this weekend in Austria. She’s one of five athletes competing for three pusher spots—meaning she’s responsible for, as the title suggests, pushing the bobsled at the top of the hill, and then jumping in after the driver does and ducking for the rest of the ride. The position is a great fit for Jones, as it utilizes her speed, strength and coordination.

While the bobsled team is named at the discretion of the coaches and all five of the pushers have had success recently, Jones helped her case at the beginning of this month with a silver-medal performance in a World Cup race in Germany.

In other words, Jones has a real shot at joining rarified company and becoming a two-sport Olympian.

This journey from being one of the most recognizable Team USA athletes at the London Games to emerging as a Sochi hopeful began back in the fall of 2012, when U.S. women's coach Todd Hays invited Jones to a team tryout, thinking that having such a well-known Olympian around would be good for the team spirit.

Jones accepted the invitation, thinking that it might be a good escape from the post-London whirlwind. At the very least, it would be an enjoyable way to cross-train. But very quickly, she took to bobsled, embracing the team atmosphere, the long training days and the challenge of learning a completely new sport. Soon, she was selected to the 2012 U.S. bobsled team and was on her way to international competitions. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jones had been looking for something different. After all, track and field, the sport that took her out of poverty and made her an Olympian, brought her a whirlwind of controversy and disappointment over the past four years.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
Jones clipping the hurdle in Beijing.

Back in 2008, Jones went into the Beijing Olympics as the favorite in the 100-meter hurdles. She led the race until the second-to-last hurdle, which she clipped. The stumble dropped her back to seventh place and moved her U.S. teammate, Dawn Harper, to the top of the podium. But the image of a distraught Jones pounding the track after seeing her medal slip from her fingers resonated with people, and over the next four years, she was the one who became the media darling.

On her Twitter account, Jones became famous for her self-deprecating humor. She used her beauty to her advantage, racking up sponsorship deals and posing for ESPN The Magazine’s "Body Issue" in 2009. And as the London Games approached, Jones opened up to the media about her struggles growing up poor and moving from shelter to shelter and about her decision to stay a virgin until she was married.

The buzz around her reached a fever pitch during the 2012 Olympics, and with it came the inevitable backlash, especially from her track and field teammates, who were jealous that she was getting so much of the spotlight despite not being a medal favorite in London. Jones ended up finishing in fourth place in the 100-meter hurdles, just split seconds away from finally achieving her dream.

And so, it was on the top of a snowy mountain, faced with new obstacles and teammates who were supportive instead of bitter, that Jones once again discovered her love for competition and, perhaps, an unlikely path to her Olympic dream. In her new supporting role, Jones placed second in her first bobsledding World Cup event in November 2012 and won a gold for Team USA at the FBIT World Championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in January 2013.

She particularly had fun with one part of bobsled training: the diet. Her ideal weight for bobsled was about 20 pounds heavier than her ideal track weight, and Jones gushed about how happy she was to finally get to enjoy all the pizza and ice cream she had denied herself all of those years. Overall, in the world of bobsledding, Jones seemed more at peace with herself than she had before.

Just as Jones had found solace from her tumultuous childhood on the track, she found relief from her out-of-control present in the back of a bobsled.

But though she was enjoying success in her new sport, it doesn’t mean that her venture into bobsledding has not been without controversy. At a Lake Placid bar last summer, she was in an altercation with the stepdaughter of local bobsled official Tony Carlin. However, after an investigation, the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation decided that Jones had not violated any team rules.

Then she posted a Vine on her Twitter account complaining about the amount she received from the USBSF for her seven months with the team: $741.81. Many veteran bobsledders were said to be outraged, especially since they didn’t have endorsement money to lean on like she did.

Jones claimed that she tweeted that to expose the hardships that most Olympic hopefuls face, not to make light of the situation. Whatever happened behind the scenes, by the time the bobsled season resumed that fall, all seemed fine between Jones and her teammates.

That’s primarily because Jones has taken her bobsledding duties very seriously and worked hard to become one of the best in the country at it. She might always be a little bit too outspoken to be in everyone’s favor, but it’s an integral part of who she is as a person and an athlete.

No matter what happens this weekend, Jones has proven with her two world championship medals that this bobsledding turn is no publicity stunt, as many originally thought. The Associated Press (via The Washington Post) reported earlier this week that such whisperings still really bother Jones:

I'm so tired of hearing people say this is about the limelight. 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.

On Jones’ website, underneath a slideshow of pictures of the two-time world champion hurdler, there’s a quote: “I'm inspired by failure.  The process of defeat – picking yourself back up again is the hardest thing in the world."

She is a certainly a testament to that. Her life to this point has been a poster of perseverance, one that has led her here: either days away from making her third Olympics, this time in a completely new sport, or days away from yet another disappointment.

But no matter what happens this weekend, it’s safe to say that we’ll probably be seeing Jones chasing her Olympic dream again, be it on the track, the snow or a new surface altogether.

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