Lolo Jones back in bobsled, seeking elusive Olympic medal and return to Beijing

Lolo Jones
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Lolo Jones hasn’t returned to China since 2008, since one bad step in what was then the biggest race of her life cost her an Olympic gold medal.

She’s never wanted to go back.

Her stance might change in 2022.

Jones — the longtime U.S. hurdles star who decided to add sliding to her resume a few years ago — is back with USA Bobsled, making this season’s 10-woman national team as a push athlete. That puts her squarely in the mix for the next Olympics, which just happen to be in Beijing, the city where that misstep in the 100m hurdles final happened 12 years ago.

How perfect.

“I would love to have the biggest failure of my life turned into the biggest success, and I would love for people to be encouraged by that persistence, determination, all these cliche things that Olympians say,” Jones told The Associated Press.

“And so, can I make it happen? I don’t know, but we are in the home stretch. We’re in the last part of this long, long race and I’m going to do my hardest to return to Beijing, the place that has hurt my career the most and turn it around.”

It’s not a farfetched plan. In her most recent four World Cup appearances — in fairness, the last of those was nearly three years ago — she helped the U.S. win a medal, two of them gold.

Jones went to the Olympics for track in 2008 and again at London in 2012, then made the bobsled Olympic team for the Sochi Games in 2014. She withdrew from the 2016 U.S. Olympic track trials while recovering from hip surgery and wasn’t picked for the 2018 Olympic bobsled team. She was training for the Olympic Trials for the 2020 Tokyo Games, which have been delayed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

So, she’s back in bobsled. And at 38, she knows that Olympic window is closing.

“I would say she really has a real chance,” USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Aron McGuire said. “She knows what it takes for her specifically but she knows what it takes generally to be at a point where she is one of the top athletes in the world in whatever she is doing, whether it’s hurdling or pushing a bobsled. And she has that drive. She has that commitment to it and that passion that will certainly put her in a position to be one of the top athletes push athletes if that’s what she puts her mind to.”

McGuire was in the stands that day in Beijing in 2008. He was working for USA Track and Field at the time and saw her run clear from the rest of the field before hitting the next-to-last hurdle in the gold-medal race. She stumbled, lost all her momentum and crossed the line in seventh.

“The ironic thing is that she was covering more distance between hurdles than she normally does because her velocity was so high,” McGuire said. “It’s a crazy thing. She was closer to the hurdles than normal because of that velocity. Had she been going just a little slower, she would have won that race.”

There is no such thing as too much velocity in bobsled. Her job: be in perfect harmony with the driver for about 45 yards of a dead sprint at the start, pushing the sled down the top of the chute as quickly and forcefully as possible, then hop aboard and let the driver do the rest.

Jones thought she was done with bobsledding after not making the 2018 Olympic team. Then Kaillie Humphries — the two-time Olympic champion, three-time Olympic medalist and reigning world champion — sent her a direct message on social media about returning to the U.S. team.

“Slid into my DMs,” Jones said.

Before long, Jones was sliding again.

Jones was just in Lake Placid, New York — USA Bobsled’s training base — for about a month to prepare for team trials and selection races. That came after she completed filming for a reality show for MTV, and she wasn’t anywhere near as heavy as she would prefer to be for bobsledding. Her ideal weight for track is around 135 pounds; for bobsledding, it can reach 165. But she made the team anyway, opening the door for possibly a fourth Olympic berth.

That, of course, would mean a return to Beijing. It won’t be easy. There’s races to get through, other hopefuls to beat out and a selection committee to impress, but she’s got a chance and sees the obvious symmetry.

Beijing is where it all went wrong. It could now be where she finally gets that long-awaited medal.

“How can it be a coincidence?” Jones said. “But what’s more important for me, and it’s always been very important, is facing my fears. And in 2008, I was winning that race, and I hit a hurdle and it costs me Olympic gold. Nothing would mean more to me than to face my fears of 12 years of being ridiculed for not getting an Olympic medal, to going back to the same place where everybody said I blew it, everybody called me a failure all these years, and being successful.”

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch

Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine

Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”