Carlin Isles, Lauryn Williams, and John Daly pose for a photo while filming "Next Olympic Hopeful" at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Lauryn Williams is in rare company as one of five Team USA athletes to have won Olympic medals in both the summer and Winter Games. She knows her story has inspired people. But there was something different about hearing that from the contestants on “The Next Olympic Hopeful,” the talent search airing at 9 p.m. ET tonight on NBC Sports Network.
“To hear the way we as Olympians inspire them to go after their dream was pretty awesome,” said Williams, who has won Olympic medals both as a sprinter and a bobsledder. “You hear that sometimes and brush it off, but to see that facility with 90 athletes really wanting to be a part of Team USA was inspiring for me because it showed the impact we have on them as Olympians.”
Tonight’s broadcast culminates a week of filming — and hard work.
It began when the United States Olympic Committee extended invitations to 90 “Average Joe” athletes from a large application pool to test and train in four Olympic disciplines — bobsled, skeleton, rugby and track cycling — under the mentorship of U.S. Olympians.
Tonight, one man and one woman will earn a spot in the national team camp for each sport.
In addition to Williams, the other mentors were four-time Olympic silver medalist Sarah Hammer (track cycling), two-time Olympian John Daly (skeleton) and Carlin Isles, a member of the first U.S. Olympic team in rugby sevens.
Daly said you could pretty much tell by body type which athlete would be training for which sport.
“It was really fun and really cool just as far as meeting some of the athletes,” said Daly, who is competing for a spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. “I thought it was kind of inspiring to watch them go through the process I had done almost 17 years earlier.”
The athletes in “The Next Olympic Hopeful” were put through the same testing protocols as Team USA athletes in their respective sports. They were then tested in sport-specific skills to see how well those raw numbers translated into the special skills for each sport in a true talent search to find the best athletes capable of representing the United States on the world stage.
“It was cool to be at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado,” said Williams, who won a gold and silver medal at the Olympic Games Athens 2004, and then added the rare summer-winter double with a silver medal in bobsled in 2014. “I thought it was special for all of these athletes get to use these resources. The way they’ve revamped it, wow, I definitely could have trained here.”
For the 90 athletes getting ready to show their best to Olympians and coaches of the different sports, the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was certainly an eye-opener.
“They were a little nervous at first,” said Hammer, a seven-time world champion who won two silver medals in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. “Obviously some of the athletes were better than the others, but none of them were too afraid to get going. They all jumped in and did everything.”
“For what we call the ‘Average Joe’ to have access to these facilities and be in that environment was absolutely motivational, inspirational,” she said. “It’s what pushed them to go to the next level as they were doing this competition trying to join Team USA.”
While the four mentors worked with the competitors on their sport-specific skills, like sled pushing for the bobsled or riding a bike with a fixed gear and no brakes while going 30 miles per hour in track cycling, they all provided tips, tricks, hints and motivations during testing, whether it was Isles pointing out correct form in squats to a skeleton hopeful or Daly giving tips on power cleans to a cyclist.
The experience included more than training. The mentors got to know the athletes.
“It was truly inspiring to hear the different stories of people who have been trying to make an Olympic team for something else, and their dream hasn’t gone away,” Williams said. “The way they persevered and weren’t giving up. Even if some of them hadn’t done a sport in a while, they had been working out and were pumped to go after this thing that was their dream.
“We just wanted to see them go through the process,” Daly said. “I had a couple of talks with people who got a little down when they messed up. Everyone wants to do their best. We want to see athletes blow the doors off things, but in the bigger scheme, we can tell the athletes to keep focusing on one thing at a time.”
They all loved the concept of the show.
“It’s a very cool concept and hopefully we can continue with it,” Hammer said. “It will be interesting to see how everyone pans out. I hope they do more of these.”
“We need more medals,” added Daly. “What this show did was basically bring everybody out, test their talent and see if they’d be a good candidate to put on ice, or in the other sports. The show will be reaching out to more of the U.S. to show the process of what it takes to get started. I think this format will expand exponentially.”