Lolo Jones

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

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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 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:

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

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

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

Shaun White clinches Olympic halfpipe spot

Ashley Wagner eyes history at Grand Prix Final after ‘disaster’ in Japan

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner can next week become the first U.S. singles skater to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, but not if she performs like she did last weekend at NHK Trophy in Japan.

“NHK was a disaster,” the three-time U.S. champion said Tuesday, “but that was kind of a one-time deal.”

Wagner backed into the Grand Prix Final as the sixth and final women’s qualifier by finishing fourth at NHK Trophy on Saturday, snapping her streak of 10 straight podium finishes in Grand Prix events. She had won Skate Canada four weeks earlier.

The Grand Prix Final is the most prestigious annual figure skating competition outside of the World Championships and an event that Wagner calls a preview for Worlds (in Boston in late March/early April).

In Japan, Wagner had trouble cleanly landing and fully rotating jumps in both programs, and though she didn’t fall, her mental state was clearly shaken even before the free skate Saturday.

Japanese legend Mao Asada (one of three women to make four straight Grand Prix Final podiums, along with Irina Slutskaya and Michelle Kwan) skated immediately before Wagner.

The home crowd was at its loudest after Asada rebounded from her own poor short to move into the lead (temporarily, Asada finished third).

“I didn’t know how Mao had skated,” said Wagner, who was in third after the short program. “I figured I needed to at least get on the podium [to definitely make the Grand Prix Final], and I knew that I could probably afford a fourth place [to still make the Final]. I think that is where I went wrong. I should have just put my head down, started fresh and gone into that long program not focusing on, OK, well, I can get as low as this and I’ll make it to the [Grand Prix] Final. I think that didn’t really get me into the fighting spirit that I’m so used to competing with. When I focus on the results and not how I’m going to get there, it usually doesn’t go so well for me. It was a rookie mistake.

“I think I was playing it safe and trying to avoid making a mistake, and of course that’s exactly what I ended up doing.”

Wagner placed fifth in the free skate and fourth overall. She actually could have finished sixth overall and still made the Barcelona Grand Prix Final.

So she goes into next weekend’s competition as an underdog to Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova, the last two World Junior champions. Plus countrywoman Gracie Gold and Asada.

Wagner’s confidence that the NHK hiccup won’t repeat could be bolstered by last season, when she was also the last qualifier into the Grand Prix Final (before Gold withdrew), was in last place after the Final short program but starred in the free skate to grab bronze.

“I like it when I have something not go so well,” she said. “When things are too perfect for too long, in a way it kind of freaks me out a little bit.”

Wagner called the women’s field in Barcelona “wide open.” It may be, given six different women won the six qualifying events, the first time nobody doubled up since 2006.

However, Wagner tapped Asada when asked to name her biggest competition. Wagner, 24, and Asada, 25, are the only women’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers older than 20.

“When she’s on, [Asada] has the whole package,” Wagner said of the three-time World champion who took last season off from competition. “She knows how to put on a performance. The audience loves her. Technically, she’s very strong. I think that If I had to pinpoint someone, Mao Asada on one of her good days, is definitely going to be one of the top girls.”

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Travis Ganong on the rise, leads U.S. men into Beaver Creek

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — Before checking into his Colorado hotel, Travis Ganong made a quick pit stop with his doctor to get the stitches removed from his surgically repaired right thumb.

The digit remains extremely swollen even two weeks after a training crash. So much so that he can barely push out of the starting gate.

Not that anyone could tell in Lake Louise, Alberta, last weekend, when Ganong finished third in a downhill race and came within a wisp of another podium spot in the super-G.

Stitches removed and confidence soaring, Ganong’s eager to take on the demanding course in Beaver Creek over the weekend. This is a place where last February he earned a breakthrough silver medal in the downhill at World Championships (video here).

”It’s really nice to have these solid results so early in the season. It takes the edge off,” Ganong said. ”Before you have the first result, you’re always questioning yourself. Now I can relax and that’s when the really good skiing comes.”

The 27-year-old from Squaw Valley, California, has been a rising force on the U.S. speed team since a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Games.

In such a fast sport, though, he’s taken a gradual approach to his development – never racing outside his comfort zone until he was good and ready. That was all part of his calculated plan, which came to fruition last season as he won his first World Cup downhill race in Italy and earned his first medal at Worlds.

”I was always building, building, building, getting better and better incrementally,” Ganong said. ”Last year I was like, ‘OK, my time is now. I need to try something new.’

”Bam, I won a race. But then I would have a horrible race. … Now this year it’s all about bringing that consistency back to the top, top level.”

Growing up in Squaw Valley, Ganong could always be found somewhere on the mountain, whether it was skiing powder in the back-country with his father, cross-country skiing (he was good, too), snowboarding (yep, he tried that), going over moguls or training with his team.

”We had this two- or three-inch rule where if it snowed that much, we didn’t worry about setting up gates. We’d go freeskiing and chase each other around the mountain,” Ganong said. ”That’s the No. 1 reason why so many good skiers come out of there.”

Like longtime U.S. skiing great Daron Rahlves, one of Ganong’s idols as a kid. The two talk all the time about ways Ganong can uncover more speed.

”I really excel on the steeper, more gnarly courses,” Ganong said. ”I need to try to figure out a way to bring that same intensity to the easier hills that are a little flatter and not my strong suit. Daron and I, that’s all we talk about when we talk about ski racing.”

Ganong broke through last weekend in Lake Louise, which is more of a glider’s course.

Not bad considering his recent wipeout. He tumbled during an early morning training session in Vail when he didn’t pick up a roll in the terrain. He needed surgery to fix a torn tendon and ligaments. He also bruised his left knee.

So he didn’t have all that high of expectations going into Lake Louise.

”For me to have that kind of speed on that kind of hill, yeah, that was a little surprising,” Ganong said. ”I skied really relaxed and just kind of within myself.”

No one could catch Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, though, who came away with wins on both days as he returns to the World Cup circuit after tearing his Achilles tendon last season while juggling a soccer ball.

”Aksel just knows how to let the skis go,” Ganong said. ”But Beaver Creek? It’s a different hill.”

Ganong’s kind of hill.

”Beaver Creek is way more my style of skiing and my style of hill,” said Ganong, who was fifth last December in a World Cup downhill at Birds of Prey. ”I’m trying to not think too much about it, just keep working hard, and keep thinking I’m an underdog and have something to prove.

”Hopefully, that’s a good mentality to keep me fired up.”

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