By Scott McDonald | April 10, 2019, 2:15 p.m. (ET)

Josh Williamson poses for a photo at the 2017 Team USA Awards Best of the Year Ceremony.

 

Athletes hoping to become the Next Olympic Hopeful have less than a month to submit an application. And for those wanting an extra advantage — or maybe a few more weeks to prepare — then Saturday might be circled on their calendars.

More than a dozen 24 Hour Fitness locations around the country will be hosting in-person screenings for hopefuls wanting to make Season 3 of “Milk Life presents, The Next Olympic Hopeful,” the United States Olympic Committee’s talent search reality show in which winners are offered spots to train with the national teams in six different sports.

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Of course, earning a spot on the show and the opportunity to undergo testing in Colorado Springs, Colorado, doesn’t guarantee contestants a spot on the next U.S. Olympic Team. But through the first two seasons of Next Olympic Hopeful, several athletes have shown that when the door was opened for them, they could indeed thrive at the top level.

Josh Williamson, Jessica Davis and Sylvia Hoffman — who each come from warm-weather climates — have all made the U.S. national bobsled team and are actively training toward the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.

“This show changed my life, and it has a lot of potential for athletes out there,” said Williamson, a former lacrosse player at Mercer University who gave up collegiate sports to become an everyday student at Florida State. “In some of these sports, pure athleticism won’t do it do you, but put in the work to make up for it and it can pay off. Now my goal is 2022.”

Although Williamson gave up lacrosse, he wasn’t ready to give up on an athletic career. He was actually training for a USA Bobsled & Skeleton scouting combine in the summer of 2017 when he learned of Next Olympic Hopeful. He signed up, and two days later arrived in Winter Park, Florida, to get tested, just hoping to get a better feel for what the combine would be like later that year.

Instead, he ended up being selected for the show, and after undergoing further testing in Colorado Springs he was named the bobsled winner. A day after the show aired on TV, Williamson got a call to meet the national team in Calgary, Alberta, for the national push championships. He packed up his apartment in Tallahassee, drove to his home in Orlando, gathered some belongings and made it to Miami. Within a day and a half, Williamson got his first passport, left country for the first time and before long was suited up and racing a bobsled.

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As a push athlete, Williamson earned some starts and medals on the second-tier North American Cup and then made his IBSF World Cup debut in December 2017. He competed in seven world cup stops this past season, pushing both the two- and four-man sleds, and then competed in both events at the world championships in March.

Now the 2022 Winter Games are a realistic possibility.

Next Olympic Hopeful is designed to find athletes across the country like Williamson — perhaps someone retired from a sport or contemplating their next steps, but still having talents the country could utilize in a different sport.

That describes Davis, one of the Season 2 contestants. She was a high school track star from California who had competed four years as a sprinter at USC when she learned about the show.

“I was just finishing up my track career, and I was feeling worn out from track,” Davis said. “I stopped having a love for track, and my coach told me I should try out for the bobsled team.”

Like Williamson, Davis had already signed up for the combine, but she decided to take the Next Olympic Hopeful path, which would offset training costs if she made it through the contest.

Although Davis fell short of winning Next Olympic Hopeful, she impressed coaches and was invited to the combine. Turned out that was just the opportunity she needed, as she performed well in the national push championships and earned one of six spots as a brakewoman on the 2018-19 world cup team. The highlight, however, came in March when she helped the U.S. to a bobsled/skeleton team event bronze medal at the world championships.

And she’s not the only Next Olympic Hopeful finalist thriving on the women’s team.

During filming, Davis said she often trained with fellow finalist Hoffman, and that the two went “neck and neck” every day during their trial runs on the makeshift bobsled. Now Hoffman, too, is pushing her way through national and international competition.

Hoffman, who comes from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, has already competed in two world cups, winning a bronze along the way, while her mixed team finished fourth at the world championships.

Davis, who coaches high school track now in California, said Next Olympic Hopeful was a life changer, and that she encourages the next hopefuls to not lose concentration when striving for their goals.

“My advice would be to focus on yourself and have fun,” Davis said. “There are a lot of athletes, and if you’re not focused on yourself — if you’re worried about their times or how much they lift — then you lose focus. Just go and have fun and good things will happen.”

Not every Next Olympic Hopeful winner has seen success on the world stage yet. Those like Season 2 winner LaDarren Landrum are putting in work every day for a chance to shine in their new sport. 

“Just being selected for a team was a huge step,” said Landrum, who was selected as the winner for the sport of rowing. “Yeah I’m Team USA’s Next Olympic Hopeful but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to be on the high performance team. That just kind of let me know that even though I’m not the Olympic level, it’s like I’m on the right path.” 

Within seven months, Landrum went from winning Next Olympic Hopeful to living in Oklahoma City and training six days a week at a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site. Though still learning a brand new sport, he is already on track to be selected to a high performance team. 

“I still have the same expectations [as the day I won Next Olympic Hopeful],” Landrum said. “I expect to be an Olympian.”

Scott McDonald is a writer from Houston who has covered sports for various outlets since 1998. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.