Lolo Jones still gets bothered by criticism. Bobsledding simply allows her to duck out of its way.
Literally, that’s what she does now. As a push athlete, her job is quite technical in many respects, but basically elementary at the same time: Get the sled off to a fast start, get in the sled, get your head down and try not to move too much while gravitational forces create ungodly turbulence for the next 60 or so seconds.
She is easily the best-known member of the U.S. bobsled team, male or female, driver or pusher, for reasons that have nothing to do with bobsledding. And she’s acutely aware that her naysayers are still out there in bunches; a quick review of her mentions on Twitter are all the proof necessary to show that not everyone is a Lolo fan.
Still, she may get the last laugh, again.
Soon, Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones may become Olympic bobsledder Lolo Jones. No stunt, no joke. She’s legit.
“I’m so tired of hearing people say this is about the limelight,” Jones told The Associated Press. “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.”
Sure, she’s been knocked, but in fairness, she’s also caused some of that knocking with a few tweets that she’d like to have back. Some of the criticism, though, seemed to stem from simple jealousy. Some track teammates questioned why Jones is so marketable despite never winning an Olympic medal. She’s been derided for lifestyle choices, including publicly acknowledging her virginity.
Around the bobsled team, she’s just one of the gang, which is what she always wanted.
“Regardless of what was in the media or not, I thought her coming here was awesome,” said USA-3 pilot Jazmine Fenlator, who read up about Jones before her arrival on the team but insisted that she waited to meet her before making any character judgments. “I think she’s extremely talented and she can rock this. We’ve bonded and she keeps it real.”
Jones is not racing Saturday when the women’s World Cup bobsled circuit hits the track in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and neither is Lauryn Williams — an Olympic sprinter who Jones recruited to the sliding world last year. Both will likely race the following weekend, the last competition before the U.S. picks the three women who will be pushing sleds at the Sochi Games.
There’s five women with strong shots of filling those roles, and for the most part, there isn’t much separating one through five. Coaches will make the selection based on a number of factors. But unlike track and field, there’s no Olympic trial, no real hard-and-fast criteria for being picked to this team. So at the end of this process, two pushers who will undoubtedly feel they were good enough to go to the Olympics will be heading home.
“I’m here,” Jones said, “to complete the dream.”
Jones has won World Cup medals in both of her seasons in a sled so far, was part of a team-competition world championship last year, and by virtually all accounts has been a model teammate. And along the way, she’s gone from someone with potential — the word coaches used after her initial tryout in the fall of 2012 — to someone with real talent.
Plus, she’s obviously enjoying herself. After all, how many people get handed the keys to a BMW in Germany and get told to see how fast they can get to Switzerland via the infamous Autobahn, stretches of which have no speed limit? (Jones tweeted about that experience this past weekend.)
“I want that moment where, for me, I can say it was all worth it,” Jones said.
Her past Olympic trips ended in anguish, a clipped hurdle on her next-to-last jump costing her the gold at Beijing in 2008, then a fourth-place finish leaving her so close and yet so far from the podium at London in 2012.
A few weeks from now, maybe she’ll finally see that American flag swaying next to Olympic rings, with “The Star-Spangled Banner” blaring through the Sochi air.
“The determination in me, I wish people could see that,” Jones said. “It’s not a gimmick. It’s not for publicity. It never was. It’s always been about me achieving a dream and being able to tell that story down the road, that I never gave up and I fought hard.”