LAKE PLACID - Lolo Jones showed up in Lake Placid three weeks ago, unsure where her first foray into bobsledding could lead.
The answer might be another Olympics - only this time, the winter one.
Jones, a two-time Olympic hurdler, was one of 24 athletes announced Thursday, Oct. 25 as members of this season's U.S. bobsled team, something that gives her the chance to vie for a spot on the World Cup circuit this winter and, possibly, represent her country at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Lolo Jones pushes a bobsled during the push start championships Friday, Oct. 5 in Lake Placid.
"This is a breath of fresh air - cool, very cool, cold air," Jones said.
It's also what she said she desperately needed.
It's been a rocky few months for Jones, who was criticized by even some of her own track teammates at the London Games for the enormous attention she generates - and how that attention isn't always in line with accomplishment. She was the gold-medal favorite before hitting a hurdle and finishing seventh at Beijing in 2008, then managed only a fourth-place finish in London this summer.
So in Lake Placid, she's tried to avoid the spotlight, even asking her new bobsled teammates if they're comfortable having her around.
The answer has been a resounding yes.
"I didn't have a lot of time to get to know Lolo through the media," U.S. women's bobsled coach Todd Hays said. "These three weeks, I've gotten to know her as an athlete. And she surprised me every day with how dedicated she is. The one word I keep coming back to is, she's such a competitor. She cannot accept not being good at something. She gets up earlier than everybody else, goes to bed later, constantly trying to get better."
Olympic sprint gold medalist Tianna Madison - part of the world-record-setting 4x100-meter relay team in London - also made the team as a push athlete. They're the ones tasked with helping get the sled moving down the icy chute, then jumping into the back seat for the bumpy ride to the finish.
The first time she went down the mountain, Jones was ready to quit - and remembers looking around for the ambulance, just in case.
A few runs later, she was hooked.
"Definitely a thrill," Jones said.
It was Hays who set this idea in motion when he invited U.S. track Olympic veterans Jones, Madison and Hyleas Fountain to the bobsled push championships earlier this month. Hays wanted to have accomplished athletes around his bobsled team to raise morale, and also wanted to see if he could strike gold by tapping into the track world - as bobsled has done countless times in the past - to find someone strong and speedy enough to push sleds.
Fountain would have been a strong candidate to make the team if she hadn't gotten slightly injured.
"The obvious is their athleticism and that's why we invited them here," Hays said. "The other incredible quality about them, which was not known to me until they got here, was how competitive and dedicated they are in their pursuit of athletic excellence. They're just great competitors and have become students of the game, just absolutely driven to succeed in whatever they try."
Jones still plans to compete in hurdles at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Only now, a trip to Sochi might come first. As of now, she's planning to take part in the next outdoor track season like usual. She's passing on the indoor track season to pursue the bobsled idea.
"I just came out here and kind of needed to get away from track for a bit, kind of wanted to get some motivation," Jones said. "I thought coming out here with the other girls that we could help each other, we could benefit from one another. I could help them with their speed and they could help me with my strength. And just being around them, hearing their goals gave me new goals and refreshed me."
When Madison and Jones showed up for the push championships - which take place on dry land - neither had done any real training since the London Games.
"Once they were revved up, things started clicking for both of us," Jones said. "It kind of overwhelmed us quite quickly."
And one of the things Jones said attracted her to bobsledding was that, traditionally, it's the pilot - not the push athlete - who gets virtually all the attention after races.
If that holds true, Jones might be thrilled.
"When I came here, I didn't want any distractions," Jones said.
Other women in the push-athlete mix are 2010 Olympian Emily Azevedo, world championship medalist Katie Eberling, Lake Placid start-record-holder Aja Evans and former Cal track athlete Cherrelle Garrett.
Three women's pilots are on the roster: reigning world championships bronze medalist Elana Meyers will drive USA-1, Jamie Greubel will drive USA-2 and Jazmine Fenlator will be at the controls of USA-3. Coaches will likely determine next week which three push athletes work with the drivers for the first World Cup event of the season. Because that's six women vying for three roles, there's no guarantee that Jones or Madison would start on the World Cup circuit.
The men's roster had few surprises. World and Olympic champion Steven Holcomb will drive USA-1, with Nick Cunningham in USA-2 and Cory Butner in USA-3.
Push athletes Steve Langton, Justin Olsen and Curt Tomasevicz helped the "Night Train" sled driven by Holcomb to the world title last year, and all are back this season. Coaches chose nine other men's push athletes as well: Adam Clark, Johnny Quinn, Chuck Berkeley, Laszlo Vandracsek, Chris Fogt, Dallas Robinson, Jesse Beckom, Andreas Drbal and Nic Taylor.
The U.S. skeleton roster will be announced following team selection races in Park City, Utah. World Cup racing for bobsled and skeleton opens in Lake Placid on Nov. 8.
Greubel, Cunningham sweep trials
LAKE PLACID - Jamie Greubel and Nick Cunningham added another win to their sliding resumes Wednesday, Oct. 24.
Greubel again teamed with Aja Evans to lead the women's bobsled race, while Cunningham and his crew of Adam Clark, Andreas Drbal and Johnny Quinn won the four-man bobsled competition with a convincing lead.
"We are super excited," Greubel said. "I can't believe that this happened again, but we're really grateful and I have a great teammate. ...We had an awesome two nights of racing. We definitely have a few kinks to work out for the World Cup, but we're excited the World Cup starts here, so hopefully we can keep this momentum going into the next few weeks."
Greubel and Evans pushed identical start times of 5.47 seconds to lead the competition from start to finish. Evans has only been on ice for six days and broke the start record with Greubel in last week's race. While the pair wasn't able to match their record tonight, Evans is excited to continue her development in the sport.
"I'm so competitive that I'm trying to figure out what else I can do better each time," Evans said. "It's exciting now. At first it was like, 'Oh my gosh, here we go again,' but now I'm excited every run."
Greubel navigated the sled to the finish with a two-run combined time of 1:55.94 to nab the win by just 0.05 seconds.
Jazmine Fenlator and rookie Cherrelle Garrett posted a total time of 1:55.99 for second place. Katelyn Kelly of Buffalo and Tracey Stewart finished third with a two-run total of 1:59.49.
Elana Meyers was granted a bye onto the team for her World Championship bronze medal performance last season and was a forerunner in the race with women's 4x100-meter relay Olympic gold medalist Tianna Madison.
Bree Schaaf (Bremerton, Wash.) opted not to compete in favor of continuing her rehabilitation program following hip surgery last spring.
"I spent the last season-and-a-half unable to compete as my best self, and the harder you push your body that's injured, the more it rejects you and results suffer," Schaaf said. "Surgery was the first step in competing to my best potential again, but it is a long process and I have a little ways yet to go. I'm working every day towards stepping on the ice and realizing the potential of my body and mind at 100-percent."
Cunningham piloted his four-man bobsled to the finish in 1:51.34 to lead the competition by an impressive 0.37 seconds.
"Wow," Cunningham said. "It's good to finally put everything together. This is just a stepping-stone to the next step. This is fun, it's good to have numbers, but when all the big boys get here for World Cup is when we have to start racing. We're excited.
"These guys really stepped it up. This was only the sixth run ever for Andreas, but he stepped in when we needed him and I think all of us gel well. Tonight was really awesome."
Drbal joined team Cunningham after a teammate was injured last week. Cunningham, Clark, Drbal and Quinn posted start times of 5.06 and 5.05 seconds.
Cory Butner, Chuck Berkeley, Laszlo Vandracsek and Chris Fogt clocked a two-run total of 1:51.71 for second place. The crew clocked push times of 5.01 and 5.02 for the fastest starts of the competition.
Junior driver Codie Bascue of Whitehall teamed with Nic Taylor, Jesse Beckom and Sam Michener to finish third with a combined time of 1:52.17.
Steven Holcomb, Steve Langton, Justin Olsen and Curt Tomasevicz were back on the ice with the Night Train tonight. The crew earned a bye after winning the 2012 World Championship title.
"I like being back in the Night Train," Holcomb said. "It's kind of where I like to be. The track is in great shape and they did a great job getting it ready. We dropped two seconds from practice yesterday, so they've been able to maintain the track in this warmer weather. It's given us a great look at what the season is going to be like. My guys are taking it a little bit easy ... but it's nice to still know we're fast."