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Lolo Jones’ Olympic odyssey nears its end, bringing tears

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — There are six women pushing bobsleds this season for the U.S. national team. Of those, only three will be picked to race in the PyeongChang Olympics.

Lolo Jones is in the group of six.

She would do anything to be in the group of three.

Her World Cup season debut is Friday night in Park City, Utah, when she’s pushing the USA-1 sled driven by Elana Meyers Taylor.

They’ll be big favorites to win a medal, and should be in the mix for gold. But the medal Jones wants most — the one she’s chased for more than a decade — only gets handed out at the Olympics.

And this might be her last shot.

“There’s so much frustration and so much pain,” Jones said, breaking down in tears when talking about her Olympic odyssey. “I try not to be jealous of other people, but there’s been so many people I’ve beaten along the way who have gone on to get medals. What have I done wrong? Why can’t I finish this? And then I get teased for it. It’s very frustrating.”

Jones was mere steps from winning 2008 Olympic 100m hurdles, leading the final before her right foot clipped the next-to-last hurdle and sent her stumbling.

She was one tenth of a second from bronze in London four years later. After transitioning to bobsled, she went to the Sochi Games in 2014 in the USA-3 sled and wasn’t in contention.

So at 35, Jones — a two-time world indoor hurdles champion who couldn’t contend for the Rio Games because of injury — hopes her time is now.

“When you’re Lolo Jones, you’ve always got a target on your back,” men’s push athlete Chris Fogt said. “She’s not what you’d expect a million-dollar athlete, someone who’s made more than the rest of us have made combined, to be. She’s got all her Twitter followers, been on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ been on MTV. But you talk to her, she’s very gracious.”

Jones is not for everybody, and she knows this.

Her level of fame has created some jealousy among other athletes over the years, in both bobsled and track. Her tweets and generally outspoken ways have been known to rub people the wrong way.

Her beliefs — she’s a devout Christian who reads her Bible daily and is still waiting to have sex until marriage — have been a lightning rod for critics.

“I falter with my faith sometimes,” Jones said. “I’m not perfect. I think once that was out there that I’m waiting until I get married, everybody was like, ‘Oh, she’s this angel, she thinks she’s better than us.’ And then they meet me and they’re like, ‘Oh, she cusses?’ So no, I’m not perfect. But I do try to be the best I can be.”

She’s no diva, either.

Bobsled teams don’t have expansive support staffs. Athletes load the sleds into trucks before and after races, do some of the maintenance, load the crates at the end of racing weekends and get everything ready to be shipped to the next track on the circuit.

Jones does all that with no complaints.

And when her male teammates were asked what they find most impressive about Jones, they didn’t cite her model-type looks or fame or fortune.

The top answer was that she can drive a stick shift, a skill that comes in handy since many of the vehicles the team gets on the road have manual transmissions.

“I told her, I was straight up, if you’re going to be good at bobsledding you have to focus on bobsledding,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said. “She’s got grit and stamina, and sometimes it gets in her way. She’s wired in a way that it’s been OK for her as an individual running track. I really think she thrives, though, in a team setting.”

Jones took Shimer’s words to heart.

She left money on the table by skipping the 2017 track season. She kept her bobsled weight — an extra 20 pounds or so — to build strength she needs for sliding.

Her selection to the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was criticized by some teammates who thought it was based on popularity. It was awkward, and still stings Jones.

She’s proven she’s legit, with seven medals in 16 World Cup starts. But she also wonders if any 2014 fallout will hurt her chances to be picked for a medal shot in 2018.

“I feel like I’ve been through it all in my career,” Jones said. “I’ve been America’s sweetheart in ’08. I was America’s fill-in in 2012. I don’t even know how to describe Sochi.”

She’ll run track again next year. There’s no guarantee she’ll continue bobsledding after this season. She wants to find love, get on with life. New chapters need to be written.

So there’s urgency, perhaps more than ever, for that medal moment.

“I just want to finish what I started,” Jones said, tearing up again. ” I know I have what it takes to be an Olympic medalist. I know I have what it takes to be an Olympic champion.”

All she wants now is one more chance.

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Noah Lyles a must-see in Paris; Diamond League TV, live stream schedule

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The last time Noah Lyles raced a Diamond League 200m, he became the fourth-fastest man in history. His follow-up comes against a field of similar strength in Paris on Saturday

Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA airs live coverage from 2-4 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage starting at noon.

Lyles could look to improve on the 19.50 he ran in Lausanne on July 5, when he moved to No. 4 on the all-time list behind Usain BoltYohan Blake and Michael Johnson. There’s reason to believe he can, given the Swiss race was into a slight headwind.

And because most of the major players from Lausanne are back for Paris. That includes Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev, who won the 2017 World title while Lyles was out injured.

Two more notables — Olympic bronze medalist Christophe Lemaitre of France and Nigeria’s Divine Oduduru, the third-fastest man this year — are in Saturday’s field after missing the July event.

Lyles may also be looking at Paris as a lead-up to the two biggest international meets of the year — a Diamond League final in Brussels on Sept. 6 and the world championships in Doha three weeks later.

Here are the Paris entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

12:02 p.m. — Men’s Shot Put
12:35 — Women’s Triple Jump
1:17 — Women’s Discus
1:40 — Women’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:09 — Men’s High Jump
2:14 — Men’s 800m
2:24 — Women’s 100m
2:32 — Men’s Triple Jump
2:35 — Men’s 1500m
2:48 — Women’s 400m
2:57 — Men’s 200m
3:06 — Women’s 800m
3:29 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
3:50 — Men’s 110m Hurdles

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m. ET
All six women who have cleared 4.80 meters this season are here, topped by world leader and London Olympic champion Jenn Suhr. But Suhr hasn’t won a top-level meet outside the U.S. since 2012. Watch out for Rio Olympic and world champ Katerina Stefanidi, the Greek who beat Suhr in Birmingham, Great Britain, last Sunday. And Olympic and world silver medalist Sandi Morris at her first Diamond League in two months.

Women’s 100m — 2:24 p.m. ET
Olympic champ Elaine Thompson takes her No. 1 world ranking into her first Diamond League 100m in two and a half months. Thompson rebounded from a blemished 2018 to win June’s Jamaican Championships in 10.73 seconds, cementing herself as the world championships favorite. Three other women in this field have a personal best in the 10.8s, including 2018 U.S. champion Aleia HobbsTeahna Daniels, the surprise 2019 U.S. champ, is coming off a third-place, 11.24 finish in Birmingham against a largely unaccomplished field.

Men’s Triple Jump — 2:32 p.m. ET
Americans Christian Taylor and Will Claye go head-to-head for the 48th time in this event, according to Tilastopaja.org. Taylor, who owns five combined Olympic and world titles, has a 25-22 edge and hasn’t lost to his countryman on the Diamond League level in five years. But Claye, who owns five combined Olympic and world medals (but no gold), ranks No. 1 in the world this year with his personal-best 18.14-meter mark from June 29. The winner here is likely the favorite for worlds.

Men’s 200m — 2:57 p.m. ET
Lyles has never lost to anyone in this field in senior competition. In fact, only one man has beaten him in a 200m in the last three years, countryman Michael Norman, who is focusing on the 400m this summer. Last year, Lyles made a statement by breaking 19.8 in the 200m on four separate occasions, something only Usain Bolt had previously done. Lyles is at three sub-19.8s so far this season with at least three meets left.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:50 p.m. ET
Grant Holloway
, the only man to break 13 seconds this year, makes his Diamond League debut after turning professional following his junior season at Florida. He takes on the second- and third-fastest men this year, including former NCAA rival Daniel Roberts, who upset Holloway at the USATF Outdoor Championships.

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2019 U.S. Open Women’s Draw

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Serena Williams‘ big showdown at the 2018 U.S. Open came in a controversial final with Naomi Osaka. This year, her most anticipated match may be her first-round date with Maria Sharapova.

It’s one of potentially two first-week blockbusters. Osaka, the world No. 1 and defending champion, will play 15-year-old American phenom Coco Gauff in the third round should each win her first two matches.

Williams comes to New York in her seventh bid to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. She was runner-up at three of her last five Slams and is two years removed from life-threatening childbirth.

Sharapova, who like Williams has dealt with recent injuries, has seen her ranking fall to 87th. She has lost 18 straight matches to Williams but advanced from what would have been their last meeting when Williams withdrew injured minutes before a 2018 French Open fourth-round date.

Osaka has traded the No. 1 ranking with Australian Ash Barty this spring and summer. The Japanese megastar was bounced in the first week of the last two majors and withdrew from her last U.S. Open tune-up event with a knee injury.

Gauff, who qualified into Wimbledon and then became the youngest woman to reach the fourth round since Jennifer Capriati in 1991, is playing her first U.S. Open main draw. She won the junior title.

US OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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