As one of the fastest teenage sprinters in the country, Kehri Jones always envisioned she’d one day be running in the Olympic Games.
After pushing a bobsled to a world title last month in Germany, her Olympic dreams have been put on ice. Now the 23-year-old Texan is more than a favorite to make the U.S. team for next year’s Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“The goal is to get the gold at the Olympics, which is everybody’s goal,” Jones said.
Jones’ journey to world champion is in some ways unlikely, but in the sport of bobsled actually not that unusual.
It all began in 2014 when two-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor was recruiting potential brakeman for Team USA. So she reached out to Chris Ruf, the strength and conditioning coach for the Baylor track and field teams, who gave a glowing recommendation for his graduating sprinter Jones.
“As she was finishing her collegiate career, we felt she had the speed, strength, adaptability and drive to make the switch to bobsled, but were unsure how her smaller stature would carry over,” Ruf said.
Jones, who stands just 5-foot-1, never saw much snow in her native Central Texas town of Killeen. But she went through a rookie push camp — a weeklong outing where prospective athletes learn how to push a bobsled — and breezed through as the best.
She then joined Meyers Taylor, and they took second at the 2015 U.S. push championships in Lake Placid, New York, in their first competition together. Since then, Meyers Taylor and Jones have soared to become the top team in the world, even breaking the track start record with a time of 5.12 seconds at the recent world championships in Koenigssee, Germany.
“We didn’t realize we set the record until the flower ceremony,” Jones said. “We knew we had a good run, but when they announced we broke the record, we just looked at each other and couldn’t believe it.”
Meyers Taylor, who is known for her efforts to recruit great athletes from other sports to try bobsled, had good reason to find Jones.
“I was one of the fastest kids in Texas, and my goal was to one day make it to the Olympics in track and field,” Jones said.
Jones even qualified for the youth world championships, she said, but couldn’t compete after partially tearing her ACL. Still, she graduated from Killeen Ellison High School in August 2010 at age 16 and enrolled at Baylor on a track scholarship the next January. However, still not fully recovered, Jones was running one day and stepped awkwardly into a divot. The partial tear in her knee became a full-blown tear.
Jones never regained the speed she had as her younger self, she said, but her drive kept her going. She ended her college career as a two-time all-Big 12 sprinter.
“She has always defied the odds, so to speak, which I think tells the story about her work ethic,” Ruf said.
Jones never imagined competing in winter sports until watching the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games with her family. They noticed Lauryn Williams, a 5-3 Olympic champion sprinter who transitioned to the bobsled and medaled in Sochi.
“My dad said I should try it because I’m shaped like Lauryn Williams and run like her,” Jones said. “He said I should consider it, but I never gave it a second thought.”
Once Meyers Taylor contacted Baylor’s staff to ask about their graduating sprinter, Jones decided to take a stab at the sport. She meshed with Meyers Taylor immediately, and the proof is in the results.
After splitting time between Meyers Taylor’s sled and Katie Eberling’s sled last season, Jones and Meyers Taylor partnered this season to win two gold medals and a silver medal on the world cup circuit before winning their world title.
“I don’t know why I’m so good,” Jones answered when asked about her prowess. “Some girls are faster, but I’m able to apply what I have in the sled more than someone. When I ran track in college, I was more of a power sprinter, and when pushing something heavy, power is very important.”
Jones said the goal is to make the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, which is where they are training this month at the Olympic track. And they know they’re already a favorite to get there and reach the medal podium.
“We know other countries are watching us,” she said. “They film us and study what we do. Team USA has the best equipment and the best training. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing and we’ll feel good about it.”
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.