Lolo Jones

Lolo Jones, Lauryn Williams make U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team

Leave a comment

Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams were used to crossing a finish line, taking deep breaths and peering up at a scoreboard to learn if they had made an Olympic Team.

No wonder they were nervous Sunday night.

The U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team announcement was not so cut and dry. The athletes entered a room after a six-person committee deliberated, and they listened.

“After my name was called,” Jones said, “it was a deep sigh of relief.”

Both of their names were officially called around the stroke of midnight in Austria. Jones and Williams, with five Summer Olympics between them, were selected to their first Winter Olympic teams.

“The biggest honor I’ll ever have in my life is representing Team USA,” Jones said. “I’m overwhelmed with emotions.”

The rest of the U.S. Olympic women’s bobsled team are drivers Jamie GreubelElana Meyers and Jazmine Fenlator and Meyers’ usual push athlete, Aja Evans (full men’s team at bottom). Driver and push athlete combinations will be decided later, according to U.S. Bobsled.

Jones, 31, hopes to reverse Olympic heartbreak in Sochi and win her first medal.

In 2008, she was favored to win the 100m hurdles and leading the final when she clipped the ninth of 10 hurdles and stumbled to seventh place. She cried alone in a hallway underneath the Beijing Olympic Stadium.

In 2012, she finished fourth in the 100m hurdles, one tenth of a second off the podium.

Jones picked up bobsledding shortly after the London Games at the urging of 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Meyers. A quick learner, she finished the 2012-13 season as the No. 4 push athlete on the U.S. team.

“The bobsled process is definitely more stressful,” than track and field, Jones said. “As a brakeman, there’s a lot of criteria and races. It’s not just one and done. it’s the course of a season.”

Williams, 30, learned that this year. She won Olympic gold in the 4x100m relay in London and silver in the 100m in Athens in 2004. Last summer, Jones planted the seed for Williams to convert at a track meet.

Williams, who went to the University of Miami, was well aware of the drawbacks, not the least of which was the climate change. She tried out and sprouted quickly, climbing the push athlete ladder faster than Jones had the year before.

Williams capped her pre-Olympic season by winning her first World Cup race, pushing for Greubel in Igls, Austria, earlier Sunday. That likely cemented her spot on the Olympic Team over the more seasoned Katie Eberling, who had more experience with Greubel but had never won with Greubel.

“I joined bobsled just to be a helper and add positive energy to the team,” said Williams, who could become the fifth person to win a medal in the Summer and Winter Olympics and second to win golds in each. “If my name wasn’t called [Sunday], I wasn’t going to be upset. I’ve enjoyed this journey.”

The competition among five women for three push athlete spots was close all season, which brought extra nerves to Sunday’s announcement.

A six-person committee that chose the team considered World Cup race finishes and combine scores and push championships results from the summer and took drivers’ input. Eberling and 2010 Olympian Emily Azevedo were left off.

“We do our best to look at performance numbers,” U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele said. “It’s a team sport, so there’s always a little bit of uncertainty with the numbers that we get.”

A total of 128 athletes have competed in Summer and Winter Olympics, according to OlympStats.com. The last American to do so was Chris Witty, who competed in cycling in 2000 and speed skating in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

The outgoing, joke-cracking Jones continued to make headlines off the ice over the last 16 months. She made light of her bobsled paycheck in a Vine in June and agreed to a date with a college student via Twitter and was involved in a Lake Placid, N.Y., incident in July.

Snowboarder Shaun White and hockey player Patrick Kane are the only 2014 U.S. Olympians with more Twitter followers than Jones.

”The determination in me, I wish people could see that,” Jones told The Associated Press earlier in January. ”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.”

It would not be a surprise to see the U.S. win two medals in women’s bobsled for the first time. Greubel and Meyers rank second and third, respectively, in this season’s World Cup standings.

They trail reigning Olympic and world champion Kaillie Humphries of Canada. Fenlator ranks seventh.

“The podium,” Williams said, “is where we’re headed.”

Here is the complete 2014 U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team:

Four-Man
Steven Holcomb, Chris Fogt, Steve Langton, Curt Tomasevicz
Nick Cunningham, Justin Olsen, Johnny Quinn, Dallas Robinson

Two-Man
Steven Holcomb and one of the six above push athletes
Nick Cunningham and one of the six above push athletes
Cory Butner and one of the six above push athletes

Two-Woman
Jamie Greubel
Elana Meyers
Jazmine Fenlator
Aja Evans
Lolo Jones
Lauryn Williams

Shaun White clinches Olympic halfpipe spot

Star goalie Ashleigh Johnson set to make U.S. Olympic water polo history

Ashleigh Johnson
Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) — Donna Johnson just wanted her five children to be safe around the pool at her Miami home. That was it, really, the first step in Ashleigh Johnson‘s path from prodigy to USA water polo.

Swim lessons turned into meets when their instructor told Donna Johnson her children were so good she had nothing left to teach them. When Ashleigh and her siblings continued to show athletic potential as they got older, Donna Johnson, a single mother and nurse from Jamaica, delivered a simple message to them.

“For everything that they do, it’s not about pressure, it’s about maximizing your potential,” she said.

Now her oldest daughter is about to make history this summer. Ashleigh, a goaltender blessed with jaw-dropping athleticism, is a lock for Rio de Janeiro, putting her on track to become the first black woman to play water polo for the U.S. Olympic team.

While this is just the fifth Games for the women’s tournament, Johnson’s ascension to elite goaltender is a welcome development for a sport looking for more diversity and growth outside of water polo-crazy Southern California.

Each of Johnson’s teammates is from the Golden State, and the same three Pac-12 schools — UCLA, Southern California and Stanford — dominate the roster. Seventy-five percent of USA Water Polo’s roughly 42,000 members live in California.

After starring at Ransom Everglades High School in Florida, Johnson opted for Princeton instead of USC.

“I think Ashleigh Johnson’s the future of our sport in the U.S.,” USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey said. “She’s an out-of-California athlete who grew up in Florida. She went to Princeton, high academic achiever from a different background than a lot of traditional water polo families are from.”

Just a short while ago, Johnson, 21, wasn’t interested in that future, at least with the national team. The thought of moving away from her tight-knit family and joining a new team in California wasn’t appealing to her, but several conversations with coach Adam Krikorian helped change her mind.

“I didn’t really know that the Olympics was a possibility for me,” Johnson said. “I thought it was just like coming and training like I had been doing for years, but just living out here, and he made me realize that the Olympics was a great opportunity and a possibility for me.”

Krikorian first heard of Johnson about 10 years ago when he was the head coach at UCLA. Nicolle Payne, one of his assistants with the Bruins and a former national team goaltender, was working a camp in Miami when she sent an email to Krikorian about America’s next great goaltender.

“She said, ‘Adam, keep this name in your mind,’ and she told me her name — Ashleigh Johnson,” Krikorian said. “‘She is the most amazing goalie I have ever seen.”‘

It’s easy to see what got Payne’s attention.

The 6-foot-1 Johnson has long arms, perfect for firing outlet passes for U.S. counterattacks and guarding the top parts of the goal, and she cuts through the water with impressive ease. Sick of swimming in high school, she was offered an out by her mother and coach if she won the 50-meter freestyle at states as a sophomore. So she won and walked away.

She collected 54 saves while helping the United States qualify for the Olympics at a tournament in the Netherlands in March, including 10 stops in an 11-6 victory over Italy in the final, capping an 8-0 performance for the Americans. But that gifted sprinter is still inside her.

At a recent practice, assistant coach Chris Oeding gave the team a chance to cut short the swimming portion of training if the players could assemble a sub-1:40 200-yard freestyle relay team. Krikorian and assistant coach Dan Klatt offered a nodding Johnson as a candidate, but four different players were chosen.

They made the time, but Johnson stole the show by swimming the second leg alongside the relay, leaving Krikorian and Klatt shaking their heads as she churned through the pool like a motorboat.

“She’s a freak,” Princeton coach Luis Nicolao said. “She’s just athletic. I often joke she could probably start for our basketball team, track team, swim team, she just has that natural ability to succeed at anything she does.”

Johnson and her sister, Chelsea, play for Nicolao with the Tigers. They have two older brothers, Blake and William, and one younger brother, Julius.

Their parents got divorced when Ashleigh was little, and Donna Johnson raised the kids mostly on her own. It’s a challenging juggling act not lost on her children.

“I mean she’s such a hard-working, loving and determined woman,” Ashleigh said, “and she’s taught me that hard work ethic and just to try my best at everything and love what I do.”

Chelsea Johnson, who joked that she followed her sister to Princeton because she didn’t want to play against her, said she sees similarities between Ashleigh and their mother.

“I think the biggest thing from her, she and Ashleigh, is that she’s always smiling, no matter what,” she said. “Like her and Ashleigh, not matter what they’re doing, no matter how hard the thing is, they’re always smiling and trying to make everyone around them feel better about whatever’s happening.”

VIDEO: Ashleigh Johnson stands out on U.S. water polo team

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross beat top-ranked Brazilians for first time

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross beat Brazil’s best beach volleyball team for the first time and extended the longest winning streak of their partnership in winning the Moscow Grand Slam on Sunday.

“That just shows our growth,” Ross said. “We’re still on the up and up.”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, an Olympic silver medalist, beat Olympic qualifying top seed Larissa and Talita 22-20, 21-17 in the final for their third straight international title.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have now won 22 straight FIVB World Tour matches, the best run of their three-year parternship. Walsh Jennings last reached a streak this long from 2007 to 2010, when she won 78 straight international matches with Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh, according to BVBInfo.com

The Americans had lost all three of their previous matches (one a one-set exhibition) versus Larissa and Talita:

Feb. 27, 2015 — 26-24 in Rio de Janeiro
Aug. 23, 2015 — 21-18, 21-16 in Long Beach, Calif.
March 20, 2016 — 22-20, 21-19 in Vitoria, Brazil

Larissa and Talita, seeking to become Brazil’s first Olympic women’s beach volleyball champions in 20 years, have won 12 of their 20 international tournaments since pairing in July 2014.

The FIVB World Tour continues in Hamburg, Germany, next week, the final event in Olympic qualifying. Walsh Jennings and Ross are expected to play there.

Walsh Jennings and Ross and Larissa and Talita are already qualified for the Rio Games.

MORE: Logan Tom continues volleyball career in Indonesia