Lolo Jones talked Lauryn Williams into trying bobsledding, dangling the potential of another Olympic trip as her bait.
Little did they know they were talking about history.
Jones and Williams — both Summer Olympic veterans — were among the selections Sunday night for the U.S. Olympic bobsled team, putting them in position to join a very exclusive club. Barring something unforeseen, they will become the ninth and 10th Americans to compete in both the summer and winter versions of the Games when they compete at the Sochi Olympics next month.
Jones, Williams and Aja Evans were the three women chosen out of a six-woman pool for the push athlete spots, that word coming at a team meeting where half the candidates saw their Olympic dreams realized and the other half saw them come to a quiet end.
“I was definitely very nervous entering the room,” Jones said. “I’m usually used to looking up at a screen after I cross the finish line to see the results. You’re just like anxious, armpits are sweating, don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Jones was one hurdle away from winning gold at the Beijing Olympics, then finished fourth at the London Games. Looking for a break from the spotlight but not sports, she turned to bobsled in the fall of 2012, winning a World Cup medal in her first race and quickly announcing herself as a legit Sochi contender.
Then she recruited Williams after the 2012 400-meter relay gold medalist and former world champion sprinter retired from track, talking her into the bobsled game.
And all Williams has done as a rookie is help the U.S. win three medals in her four World Cup races, including a gold on Sunday.
“I joined bobsled just to be a helper and to add positive energy to the team,” Williams said. “If my name wasn’t called, I wasn’t going to be upset. I’ve enjoyed this journey. I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone. I’ve enjoyed the challenge.”
At the University of Miami, where Williams was a star sprinter, the Olympic berth was big news.
“When she is determined to achieve something she is one of the most driven and competitive athletes I have ever been associated with,” Miami track coach Amy Deem said.
Jones and Williams will join Evans, another Winter Olympic first-timer, and drivers Jamie Greubel, Elana Meyers and Jazmine Fenlator on the women’s team.
“This is the deepest field of push athletes we’ve ever had,” said Darrin Steele, the CEO of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. “We knew heading into the season that the Olympic selection was going to be extremely difficult. It’s a good problem to have, but it meant that some outstanding athletes would not make the Olympic team.”
It also gave Sunday’s selections a somber feel. Williams and Jones both said they felt for the athletes who weren’t picked.
“I had no idea what was in store for me this season,” Williams said. “I just wanted to come in with positive energy and help out. This is the first time I’ve been a part of a true team sport, and there’s someone else counting on you. You can’t let that person down, and that’s what drives me. It’s very important to give everything I have whenever I’m on that start line.”
The U.S. qualified three men’s two-man sleds and two four-man sleds for Sochi. Reigning Olympic four-man champion Steven Holcomb will drive USA-1 and Nick Cunningham will be at the control of USA-2 in four-man. Cory Butner will drive the other two-man entry.
Holcomb and his crew of Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt will be USA-1. Holcomb snapped a 62-year U.S. gold medal drought in the four-man event at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and now will try to give the U.S. its first two-man gold since 1936.
Justin Olsen, Johnny Quinn and Dallas Robinson will push Cunningham’s four-man sled. Robinson was one of the men’s push athletes on the fence of qualifying as well, and said he passed the time waiting out the selection meeting in a rather unusual manner.
“I was eating chocolate donuts, because I figure I was either going to celebrate or I was going to eat myself into a coma,” Robinson said.
So there was some levity in a stressful night, but the relief was evident among those on the team.
About two hours after the team selection was made, Jones posted her reaction on Facebook, summing up the emotions of having another chance to compete for an Olympic medal.
“Had I not hit a hurdle in Beijing I would not have tried to go to London to redeem myself,” she wrote. “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.”