Park City • Lolo Jones knew it would be the last time. Standing at the top of the track at the Utah Olympic Park on Friday night, the 35-year-old hurdler and bobsledder knew she would never race here again. So she told herself to enjoy it.
“This is your last time racing in Park City. You better have fun,”Jones said, her breath visible in the frigid air at the finish line. “This is your last time going down this track. You’re never coming back here again … as an athlete. I just wanted to be in the moment and really have fun going down that track.”
If you know anything about Jones, though, you know she wants more than memories. In two trips to the Summer games as a runner, and one trip to the Winter games as a bobsled brakeman, Jones has come up short of her dream of winning an Olympic medal. She has come agonizingly close before, tripping on the second to last hurdle in the 100-meters in Beijing, but she has never stepped onto the podium.
And she knows time is running out.
“It’s my last crack at the winter one for sure,” said Jones, who is vying for one of three spots on the U.S. bobsled team early next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
On Friday night in Park City, Jones’ first race of the season, there was both good and bad. After a frustrating first race in snowy condition, Jones and pilot Elana Meyers Taylor and Jones recorded the fastest push time in their second run on Friday, ultimately finishing in third place overall.
“I think with her track speed, she adds that little velocity at the back of the sled,” Meyers Taylor said of Jones. “That’s the biggest thing we’re looking for.”
There is a lot of velocity, however, in red, white and blue. Meyers Taylor has a longstanding relationship with brakeman Kehri Jones. Meyers Taylor and Aja Evans hold the record for the best start time in Park City. And Lauren Gibbs has helped two different drivers make World Cup podiums already this season.
“Every time you get on the line in this uniform, you have to know that if you don’t perform someone could take your spot,” said Gibbs, who would relish a chance to race in her first Olympics.
Jones was one of the three American women picked for the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and she has worked hard to improve since. Jones laughed when she said she no longer has abs, or at least not the well-defined midsection once framed by the track suits she wore in Beijing and London. This is one of the sacrifices she’s made in pursuit of her Olympic dream that has evaded her for nearly a decade.
“I’ve really made an effort to work on my strength and my … fatness,” Jones said at the Utah Olympic Park this weekend. “Mass pushes mass.”
She has added 25 pounds to her body, up to 160 from the 135 she weighs while running track. Which isn’t all bad.
“Honestly, in track and field, I felt like if I had a candy bar my season would be over,” she said. “I really did not eat sweets. In bobsled, I can have double-bacon cheeseburgers. I’m just pounding the calories down.”
And, come February, she hopes to be carrying the extra weight of an Olympic medal. After a shaky start on Friday, however, Jones’ confidence was a bit shaken.
“That first start, I’m not going to lie, I was, like, W.T.H.?” she said. “I couldn’t figure it out. Was it the snow? Did we have a head wind? Am I slow? All these things start swirling in your head. And Elana, she’s never been out-pushed, so to get out-pushed is terrible.”
In the end, after earning a spot on the podium, Jones hoped she had done enough to make an impression on the pilot who could help decide whether she will make the trip to Korea next year.
“I was just hoping I would show that I had a good pairing with her,” Jones said. “… I think we saw it on the second run. I just wish it would have been for both heats.”
Jones admires runners Gail Devers and Allen Johnson, who ran track and field into their 40s. So the multi-sport Olympian said she has yet to decide whether to pursue another Summer games.
“Right now my attention is so much on Winter,” she said. “This season can either help motivate me to keep going to track and field. Or at the end of the season, maybe I’m wiped. Who knows?”
Along the way, Jones said she is trying to maintain perspective.
“The peace I’ll have at the end of this journey, whether I medal or not, whether I’m an Olympic champion or not, is whether I did everything I could to get this medal until I had no more,” she said. “That’s how I’ll be able to lay my head down at night and have peace.”