It's official: Lolo Jones is headed to Sochi.
The two-time summer Olympian was named to the U.S. bobsled team on Sunday, completing a journey from fourth-place hurdler in London to Winter Olympic hopeful that began just a year and half ago.
And with the nomination now in the books, Team USA's star power in Sochi just got a whole lot brighter.
Jones had performed well on the international bobsled circuit this season, but it was still a tough competition between five push athletes for just three spots on the team. Unlike track and field, where you qualify based on times alone, in bobsled, a committee looks at overall performance and decides. It was a nerve-wracking process for Jones, who has been under a lot of scrutiny since joining the bobsled team.
Now, she can say that all of the hard work was worth it. "The biggest honor I’ll ever have in my life is representing Team USA,” she told reporters after the nomination was announced, via Nick Zaccardi of NBCSports.com. “I’m overwhelmed with emotions.”
Over the past few years, Jones has made the enviable transition from an Olympic athlete to a pop-culture celebrity. She has over 372,000 followers on Twitter, which, according to NBC OlympicTalk editor Zaccardi, is the third most among Team USA winter athletes, trailing only Shaun White and Patrick Kane.
Jones has also posed for ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue," been on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and signed lucrative endorsement deals with companies such as Red Bull and Asics. The two-time world indoor champion in hurdles has her failures to thank for her popularity as much as she does her successes.
Back in her first Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, Jones was the favorite to win the 100-meter hurdles. She led the race up until the second-to-last hurdle, when she clipped it and stumbled, eventually finishing seventh. The image of a distraught Jones kneeling on the track beyond the finish line and yelling "Why?" resonated with viewers and made her an extremely sympathetic figure.
The buzz began to build around her leading into the London 2012 Games, where she was determined to come back and win that elusive medal. Though she wasn't the favorite this time, she had an even higher profile than she had in 2008, thanks to her hysterical Twitter account, which often poked fun at her own single status, and her openness with the media about her troubled childhood and decision to stay a virgin until married.
Though in London she finished the 100-meter hurdles in fourth place—the cruelest spot in sports—she left there more famous than ever. Whether you believed she was a self-involved opportunist, like some of her teammates did, or an inspiring story of hope and perseverance, chances are that by the time the 2012 Games were over, you knew who Lolo Jones was.
U.S. bobsled coach Todd Hays certainly did. In the fall of 2012, Hays invited Jones and a couple of her track and field teammates to be a part of a one-day trial to help showcase their Olympic experience and improve the spirit of the team.
But Jones quickly took to the bobsled life and was eventually named to the U.S. national bobsled team. She enjoyed the team camaraderie, the excuse to eat junk food to gain necessary weight and the chance to compete at a new sport. Then, as she improved and won two silver medals on the world-cup stage, she saw it as another opportunity to finally fulfill her dreams of winning an Olympic medal.
After being named on Sunday as one of three pushers that Team USA will be taking to Sochi, Jones posted a note on her Facebook wall acknowledging the rocky road that has brought her to this moment:
Had I not hit a hurdle in beijing I would not have tried to go to London to redeem myself. Had I not got fourth in London I would not have tried to find another way to accomplish the dream.
Bobsled was my fresh start.
Bobsled humbled me.
Bobsled made me stronger.
Bobsled made me hungry.
Bobsled made me rely on faith.
Bobsled gave me hope.
I push a bobsled but bobsled pushed me to never give up on my dreams.
All eyes will, once again, be on Jones in Sochi—even the back of a bobsled won't be a safe place to hide. But Jones has proved through the years that she has what it takes to bounce back after she falls and to keep going when things get tough.
She'll hear the loud whispers about how this is just a publicity stunt, and she'll see reporters rolling their eyes as they ask her about the legitimacy of her quest. Through it all, she'll be able to hold her head high knowing that she earned this spot fair and square. With her teammates by her side, she'll focus on the main goal—getting to the Olympic podium for the first time in her career.
One thing is for sure: The bobsled team better get ready for prime time. Because, with Jones pushing them along, that's exactly where they'll be.
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