Track star Lolo Jones will be heading to Sochi with the U.S. bobsled team, as she cleared the final hurdle Sunday in her well-documented quest to compete in the Winter Olympics.
The U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation named Jones to the team, along with Chicago’s Aja Evans and Olympic silver medal 100-meter runner Lauryn Williams. The trio was tapped to serve as brakemen on the three American sleds slated to race in Russia’s Krasnaya Polyana Mountains next month.
Jones and Williams would become only the ninth and tenth U.S. athletes to compete in both Winter and Summer Games.
“It’s an honor any time you’re able to compete for Team USA,” Jones said. “This was definitely a difficult challenge. The team is definitely really deep...I’m just thrilled right now and overwhelmed with emotion.”
By punching Jones’ ticket to Sochi, the bobsled federation passed over Katie Eberling of Palos Hills, who is currently the national team’s most decorated brakeman and the reigning world silver medalist in the two-woman bobsled. She won three bronze medals on the World Cup circuit this season and finished second behind Evans at the national push championships, which clock how fast athletes can thrust the sleds off the starting line.
Eberling, 25, had been considered a lock to compete in Sochi at the start of the season. Her exclusion clearly weighed heavily on her teammates’ Sunday, as several of the women referred to the selection process as being “bittersweet.”
“We formed such a strong bond (as a team),” Evans said. “We became a wolf pack. We grinded it out together, we worked hard and fought for what was ours. We had each other’s backs...To be one of the ones who is going, I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. It’s also a little hard to accept that road is coming to an end and we have to part ways.”
Eberling could not be reached for comment.
The bobsled federation cuts itself a wide berth when picking the Olympic team. The vaguely worded nominating procedures state that athletes should be selected based on, among other things, current season results, past performance, push times, work ethic and driver input.
“This is the deepest field of push athletes we’ve ever had,” federation CEO Darrin Steele said in a statement. “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.”
The U.S. sleds will be piloted by Elana Meyers, Jamie Greubel and Jazmine Fenlator
The announcement comes after months of speculation about whether Jones, 31, would join the small fraternity of Americans who have competed in the both the Winter and Summer Games. The two-time Olympic hurdler’s transition to the ice track has not been an entirely smooth one, as some questioned whether it was a publicity stunt or if she could handle the sport’s Spartan existence.
Jones largely silenced those critics during this World Cup season by medaling twice in four races. She finished seventh Sunday in Igls, Austria, where the last World Cup race before the Games was held.
Despite her success, she acknowledged feeling uneasy before learning her fate at the team’s hotel after the competition.
“I was definitely very nervous entering the room,” Jones said. “I’m not used to this process. I’m used to looking at the screen after I cross the finish line to see the results. You’re anxious and armpits are sweating. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. My name was called and it was a deep sigh of relief.”
The U.S. women’s team has been spoiled for choice when it comes to brakemen, the athletes who help push the sled at the start and then assist with controlling the speed down the track by applying the brakes at appropriate times.
Evans, a former Big Ten shot put champion for the University of Illinois, will head to Sochi as America’s top brakeman. She has won two gold and two silver medals on the World Cup circuit this season pushing for Meyers, who is currently ranked no. 2 in the world.
She also pushed Meyers to a silver medal on the 2014 Olympic track in Sochi’s test event last season
Williams, 30, joined the sport six months ago at Jones’ suggestion and found almost instant success. The two-time Olympic sprinter has won three medals on the World Cup circuit, including gold in Sunday’s race.
“I came to bobsled to be a helper and add positive energy to the team,” she said. “If my name wasn’t called, I wasn’t going to be upset. I’ve just enjoyed the journey…I was satisfied already.”
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