LAKE PLACID, N.Y. >> There are six women pushing bobsleds this season for the U.S. national team. Of those, only three will be picked to race in the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics.
Lolo Jones is in the group of six.
She would do anything to be in the group of three.
Her World Cup season debut is Friday night in Park City, Utah, when she’s pushing the USA-1 sled driven by Elana Meyers Taylor. They’ll be big favorites to win a medal, and should be in the mix for gold. But the medal Jones wants most — the one she’s chased for more than a decade — only gets handed out at the Olympics.
And this might be her last shot.
“There’s so much frustration and so much pain,” Jones said, breaking down in tears when talking about her Olympic odyssey. “I try not to be jealous of other people, but there’s been so many people I’ve beaten along the way who have gone on to get medals. What have I done wrong? Why can’t I finish this? And then I get teased for it. It’s very frustrating.”
Jones was a mere couple of steps from winning gold in the 100-meter hurdles in Beijing in 2008, leading the race before her right foot clipped the next-to-last hurdle and sent her stumbling. She was one-tenth of a second from bronze in London four years later. After transitioning to bobsled, she went to the Sochi Games in 2014 in the USA-3 sled and wasn’t in contention.
So at 35, Jones — a two-time world indoor hurdles champion who couldn’t contend for a spot at the 2016 Rio Games because of injury — hopes her time is now.
“When you’re Lolo Jones, you’ve always got a target on your back,” men’s push athlete Chris Fogt said. “She’s not what you’d expect a million-dollar athlete, someone who’s made more than the rest of us have made combined, to be. She’s got all her Twitter followers, been on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ been on MTV. But you talk to her, she’s very gracious.”
Jones is not for everybody, and she knows this. Her level of fame has created some jealousy among other athletes over the years, in both bobsled and track. Her tweets and generally outspoken ways have been known to rub people the wrong way. Her beliefs — she’s a devout Christian who reads her Bible daily and is still waiting to have sex until marriage — have been a lightning rod for critics.
“I falter with my faith sometimes,” Jones said. “I’m not perfect. I think once that was out there that I’m waiting until I get married, everybody was like, ‘Oh, she’s this angel, she thinks she’s better than us.’ And then they meet me and they’re like, ‘Oh, she cusses?’ So no, I’m not perfect. But I do try to be the best I can be.”
She’s no diva, either.
Bobsled teams don’t have expansive support staffs. Athletes load the sleds into trucks before and after races, do some of the maintenance, load the crates at the end of racing weekends and get everything ready to be shipped to the next track on the circuit.
Jones does all that with no complaints. And when her male teammates were asked what they find most impressive about Jones, they didn’t cite her model-type looks or fame or fortune. The top answer was that she can drive a stick-shift, a skill that comes in handy since many of the vehicles the team gets on the road have manual transmissions.
“I told her, I was straight up, if you’re going to be good at bobsledding you have to focus on bobsledding,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said. “She’s got grit and stamina and sometimes it gets in her way. She’s wired in a way that it’s been OK for her as an individual running track. I really think she thrives, though, in a team setting.”
Jones took Shimer’s words to heart. She left a lot of money on the table last year by skipping track season, forgoing prize money and appearance fees. She kept her bobsled weight — an extra 20 pounds or so — to build strength she needs for sliding. She should be taking the victory laps of her track career. Instead, she shortened that celebration to chase a bobsled medal.
Her selection to the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was criticized by some teammates who thought it was a decision based on popularity. It was awkward, and still stings Jones. She’s proven she’s legit, with seven medals in 16 World Cup starts. But she also wonders if any 2014 fallout will hurt her chances to be picked for a medal shot in 2018.
“I feel like I’ve been through it all in my career,” Jones said. “I’ve been America’s sweetheart in ‘08. I was America’s fill-in in 2012. I don’t even know how to describe Sochi.”
She’ll run track again next year. There’s no guarantee she’ll continue bobsledding after this season. She wants to find love, get on with life. New chapters need to be written.
So there’s urgency, perhaps more than ever, for that medal moment.
“I just want to finish what I started,” Jones said, tearing up again. ” I know I have what it takes to be an Olympic medalist. I know I have what it takes to be an Olympic champion.”
All she wants now is one more chance.