Lolo Jones is a step closer to the Sochi Games, and Lauryn Williams might not have raced in her final Olympics after all.
Jones and Williams are best known for their track accomplishments, Jones as one of the world’s elite hurdlers and Williams as an NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist sprinter.
They were among nine women chosen Saturday for the U.S. bobsled national team, putting them squarely into the mix for spots in Sochi in February.
U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele called the team "the fastest and most prepared group of athletes we’ve ever seen."
"It was difficult to narrow the women’s push field to six and it will be even more challenging to select the top three for the Olympic team in a few months," Steele said in a statement shortly after Saturday’s announcement was made in Park City, Utah. "The hard work and dedication has paid off and I couldn’t be more proud of all these athletes."
Elana Meyers will drive USA-1, Jamie Greubel will drive USA-2 and Jazmine Fenlator will drive USA-3. Meyers was a bronze medalist as a push athlete at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Also selected as push athletes were 2010 Olympian Emily Azevedo, two-time national push champion Aja Evans, two-time world championship medalist Katie Eberling and Army soldier-athlete Kristi Koplin.
Jones is on the women’s national team for the second straight season after establishing herself quickly a year ago on the World Cup circuit. Williams is a rookie who was recruited by Jones, and the former Miami Hurricanes star signed on following her retirement from track not long after helping the U.S. win the 400-meter relay gold medal at the London Olympics.Jones finished fourth in the 100 hurdles at the London Games and four years earlier in Beijing was in position to win gold when she hit the ninth of 10 hurdles and wound up seventh.
"Last year, I was just soaking everything in. It was an adventure, it was fun, it was nothing really on the line for me," Jones said. "It was just kind of an escape and there were no expectations. So now coming into my second year, they expect me to be more knowledgeable and more of a leader."
Williams touched a bobsled for the first time in July. A week later, she placed third in the national push championships. What wasn’t even fathomable — a sprinter who has spent much of the last 15 years in Miami getting into a winter sport and qualifying for the Olympics almost on a whim — now seems more than a little bit possible.
"I know this is the right place for me right now," Williams said. "I’ve learned so much in the two months already. And do I want to make it all the way to the end? Certainly."
Jones said she recognized right away that Williams, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the 100-meter dash, had all the right tools for sliding.
"She’s very humble," Jones said. "I was like, `Oh, gosh, I’m going to regret recruiting her if she beats me out for the team.’ But I have a lot of respect for Lauryn and I just couldn’t see her taking a stab at it. She already has the gold and the silver. I told her she’s losing nothing and just go for it."
It’s expected that the push athletes will alternate between drivers somewhat during the World Cup season, which starts next month. The Olympic team will likely be finalized just a few weeks before the Sochi Games open.
"Jazmine, Elana and I all started driving around the same time so we have that kind of friendly rivalry and I think it works really well for us," Greubel said. "We work together and shake each other’s hands at the end of the day, no matter who’s on top. I really respect the other girls that are drivers on the team. They definitely help push me to be a better athlete."
The men’s national team will be announced Sunday, with Steven Holcomb, Nick Cunningham and Cory Butner the expected drivers on the squad.
The four-man team trials ended in Park City on Saturday night, with Holcomb — the 2010 Olympic gold medalist who has a bye onto the national team — sweeping the competition, driving his "Night Train" sled to a two-run time of 1 minute, 35.88 seconds. Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt were in Holcomb’s sled, and that’s the likely lineup for USA-1 to open the World Cup circuit next month.
Cunningham drove his sled to second place on the 2002 Olympic track, 0.45 seconds behind Holcomb. Butner’s sled was another 0.39 seconds back.