Pressure Is Now on Again for Lolo Jones to Perform in Glare of Olympic Spotlight

Lindsay GibbsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 03:  (BROADCAST-OUT) Bobsledder Lolo Jones of the United States visits the set of The Today Show ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Olympic Park on February 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The moment has finally come for Lolo Jones. Again.

This isn't practice. This isn't a training run. This is the Olympics. She's been on this stage before, it just looks a little bit different this time. 

On Tuesday, the two-time Summer Olympian will make her Winter debut as the pusher for Jazmine Fenlator in their bobsled, USA-3. Jones and Fenlator will race in two heats on Tuesday and two heats on Wednesday, all cumulative.

At the end of the two days, Jones hopes to be the owner of the one thing that has eluded her throughout her hurdling career: an Olympic medal.

Just like in Beijing and London, all eyes will be on Jones to perform in Sochi. That's what happens when you're one of the most famous athletes in the Games. Pressure, whether it's a privilege or not, is part of the package. 

A medal in Sochi would be a moment of redemption that would take over the Olympic media circus and overshadow every other story in its path. Anything else would be painted as a disaster. There is no in-between. 

Jones first came onto the Olympic map back in Beijing in 2008 when she was the favorite to win gold in the 100-meter hurdles. She led the race up until the ninth of the ten hurdles, which she clipped. The field passed her by, and after the race, she pounded the track and choked back tears as the heartache raced over her.

That unfiltered picture of the agony of defeat became one of the defining images of the Olympic Games—a reminder for all of how cruel sports can truly be.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Over the next four years, Jones was able to catapult her notoriety into fame. She gained hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter with self-deprecating humor and revealing anecdotes, she posed for ESPN's Body Issue and she talked openly with the media about her rise from poverty and her desire to stay a virgin until she was married.

By the time the London Games came around, she was a media sensation. Many who had become jaded by the media's infatuation with Jones, turned against her.

In her London race, she made it cleanly through the hurdles, but still finished in an agonizing fourth place.

It was after that devastation that she was invited to join the bobsled push athletes for an open tryout. She accepted the invitation just for fun.

Michael Sohn/Associated Press

But it was there in the mountains, as part of a team, that she found out that she was actually pretty good at the bobsled gig. Suddenly, a new Olympic dream was born.

She wanted to go to Sochi.

Jones had two podium finishes during this World Cup season, which earned her a spot on the Olympic team. But controversy followed her, as it always does. Many thought that this Winter Olympics excursion was just a gimmick. Others implied that she was named to the team solely for the number of Twitter followers she possesses—over 387,000, if you're counting. 

Through it all, Jones remained committed to being a good teammate, and was determined to handle the pressure and finally find her way onto an Olympic podium. 

As she told Chris Strauss of USA Today, she has a lot of experience handling nerves:

I've always trained myself how to calm the nerves so they don't overwhelm you and used cues from the bobsled coach and track coaches. You know it's the Olympics but you don't want to get too amped up to where you can't think about the process of doing what you need to do to execute.

Execution is the key for Jones this week.

Bobsled is slightly less fluky than hurdles can be, but as a push athlete there's only so much that Jones can do. She is primarily in charge of getting the sled off to a booming start at the top of the hill. Therefore, she has to be fast, strong, steady and have an agile entrance into the sled.

But after that, the ride will be mostly out of her hands. Fenlator will be the one steering them down the track and navigating the twists and turns of the icy course.

Jones, with Fenlator, at U.S. trials in October.
Jones, with Fenlator, at U.S. trials in October.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

A medal isn't out of the picture for Jones and Fenlator, but it's also not expected. They are in the third sled for Team USA, meaning both other sleds are expected to have faster times. But their World Cup podiums this season put them in the conversation.

Still, even though she's not a favorite and will literally be hidden for most of her runs, everyone will be focused on Jones. Any misstep will be magnified. Any medal will likely be the focus of a Lifetime movie within the next year.

At this point, tragedy or triumph are her only Olympic options. Whichever way it goes, one thing is certain: people will be talking about it. A lot.

Jones can't worry about that. She has to run fast, push hard and then slip away, hang on and hide. This is it.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jones just has to control what she can control. Fenlator and the media will take it from there.