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 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

Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
AP
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

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Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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