KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Lolo Jones knows weird things can happen at an Olympics.
In Beijing and London, that worked against her. In Sochi, it may prove to be her medal breakthrough.
The reality is that being in USA-3 with Jazmine Fenlator for the women’s bobsled competition at the Sochi Games quite simply means that Jones is not expected to leave the Olympics with a medal. It’s far from impossible, but it also would be fair to deem it surprising if she and Fenlator are on the podium after four runs next week.
“This is the Olympics of the underdogs,” Jones said Friday after a training session. “You think about everybody who was supposed to medal who didn’t medal and then you think about just so many people who have kind of come up and got a first medal. It’s been a really weird Olympics. You go down the line like Shaun White, Shani Davis, who else we have, Heather (Richardson) … it’s been definitely a year of the underdogs. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
If that trend continues, USA-3 won’t complain.
Jones was surrounded by expectations as a hurdler in the past two Summer Olympics, where she didn’t medal. In Sochi, she still commands attention — naturally — but there’s no huge burden of expectation, either.
“It’s completely different. It’s absolutely different,” Jones said. “There’s no pressure. It’s Jaz’s first Olympics. She’s all about just having a good experience and just executing. That’s the two goals for her. And for me it’s just all about being the best teammate and giving her the best, most amazing push and velocity that she could ever ask or hope for.”
Does she want a medal? Silly question. It’s why she’s bobsledding.
But she also knows that many of the other sleds in the field are consistently faster than USA-3. Hardly anybody would look at results from this season or any training data and say USA-3 “should” medal.
Could, yes. Should, that’s a different story.
“Yes, it’s my first Olympics,” Fenlator said. “Yes, I’m an underdog or whatever you want to say. But I’m here on a mission. And I have expectations to do well.”
Fair enough. And it’s not like Fenlator is some unaccomplished driver — she had three top-four finishes in eight World Cup races this season, including one silver medal, and finished seventh in the overall points standings.
It’s why Jones calls the Sochi Games a “weird Olympics,” especially after some big-name American medal favorites struggled, others like Lindsey Vonn were derailed by injury even before the Olympics, and athletes like Sage Kotsenburg, Joss Christensen and Erin Hamlin have been surprise success stories.
Jones and Fenlator wouldn’t mind adding themselves to that list.
“We’re hoping to sweep the podium,” Fenlator said. “That’s what we want, to see three American flags. But at the end of the day we’re super proud of how far we’ve come and we’ve prepared ourselves as best as possible to represent our nation and everyone at home. So we’re going to hold our heads high and be super proud.”
The team selection process was draining, especially after Jones was chosen to the Olympic squad over two longer-tenured brakemen. One was Katie Eberling, who was in Elana Meyers’ USA-1 sled for training on Friday even though Lauryn Williams — like Jones, another track athlete turned bobsledder — will be in that seat for the Olympic races.
Eberling, selected as an Olympic alternate, said the team had some meetings, aired some grievances, and have since collectively moved on.
“I had to move past the heartbreak and negativity and just realize that if I don’t take this chance to enjoy it, I’ll regret it,” Eberling said.
If the drama over selections is bothering Jones, it wasn’t showing Friday.
Here, she’s actually having fun, which is a departure from past Olympics.
She was one misstep from gold in Beijing, nearly fought her way through injuries to capture a medal in London, and would appreciate nothing more than finally getting that medal in Sochi.
And if it doesn’t pan out this time, the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, back in her hurdle element, are very much in her plans.
“I think every Olympian goes to the Olympics and thinks about a medal,” Jones said. “If you’re not going and thinking about a medal, you shouldn’t go.”