Lolo Jones looks on during the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Jan. 25, 2020 in Boston.
Lolo Jones was a logical choice for the next season of the MTV series “The Challenge: Double Agents.”
The three-time Olympian certainly knows how to meet a challenge. And as a double-threat athlete, Jones is used to switching between sports and forming new alliances.
Only 10 Team USA athletes in history have earned Olympic berths in both summer and winter sports and Jones is the only one still active. She has bounced back and forth from track and field to bobsled for most of the past decade, competing in the 100-meter hurdles in the 2008 and 2012 Games and as a push athlete in two-woman bobsled in 2014.
But when 2020 began Jones had a one-track mind – and it did not involve ice.
“When I started this year I never even imagined going back to bobsled,” said Jones, who made her fifth national team in the sport after trials in Lake Placid, New York, earlier this month. “If I can be honest, my last energies were going to be put into the Summer Olympics. I was training for Tokyo, I was fully invested, and then everything got shut down due to COVID.”
On March 7, Jones got in her one and only outdoor meet. She won her specialty, the 100-meter hurdles, in 13.45 seconds, and also ran the 100-meter dash in a low-key college event in Mississippi. Jones went straight to the track after driving three hours from her home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Had I known that was going to be my only race, I would have driven up the night before,” said Jones, who turned 38 in August. “I would have done things properly, because that might be my last track and field race.”
COVID cancellations began soon after.
With no meets on her schedule and track facilities and weight rooms shut down, Jones began lifting her couch to stay in shape. Once word came down that the Tokyo Games were postponed, Jones stopped bench-pressing the couch. She just sat on it.
“Then the mental struggle happened,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘Not only did I invest six months for an Olympic Trials race that did not happen, I extended my career for three years. If I had known this was going to happen, I would have retired three years ago.”
An Irresistible Invitation
Luckily, Jones remembered she had other options.
“One of greatest bobsled drivers in the history of bobsled asked me to come back and try bobsled again,” Jones said.
That would be Kaillie Humphries, who won two gold medals and a bronze for Canada in the last three Winter Games before deciding to compete for the United States.
Humphries, who had been one of Team USA’s top rivals, contacted Jones in 2019 about returning to bobsled so they could race together. Jones had narrowly missed making the 2018 U.S. Olympic team, a disappointment that still stung.
“I told her I was obviously honored and I was stoked that she’d be part of Team USA, but I wanted to focus on track and field,” Jones said. “We had some conversations and I just felt that maybe I needed to keep that door open. So, even though I had closed it, Kaillie Humphries for sure opened it back up.”
With her track hopes dashed, Jones recalled that conversation. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ll go to bobsled.’”
Jones began talking to Humphries and Mike Kohn, a bobsled Olympian who is now a USA Bobsled coach. She was only a week or two into bobsled training when Kohn said it looked like the season was not going to happen.
So much for Plan A and Plan B. On to Plan C.
Jones was invited to compete on the 36th season of “The Challenge,”which will premiere on December 9. It’s her third reality show after “Dancing With the Stars” and “Celebrity Big Brother 2,” which coincidentally matches her number of Olympic Games.
“I was so desperate because I had all this built-up Olympic energy that was going nowhere,” Jones said.
But she was torn. Should she hold out in case the bobsled season materialized or do the show? The Challenge offered a prize purse of $1 million, but would restrict Jones’ training since the 30 contestants were confined inside a house when they weren’t competing.
Kohn suggested Jones do the show to help fund her Olympic bobsled training.
Checking In From the Road
“I got one 10-minute call a week,” Jones said, “and two of those times I used it to talk to Kaillie so she would give me an update on bobsled. On my second call with her, she said, ‘Hey, just so you know, things are actually progressing more than we thought for bobsled. The girls are out here training and things are moving.’”
Jones was alarmed. “At that point, I was stuck on the show, and was losing weight,” she said. “I didn’t have the ability to train and it was a stressful environment, so I was like, ‘I am in no position to be a bobsled athlete. I’m not in a position to be an athlete at all. I’m on a reality TV show!’”
While details are under wraps, “The Challenge” ended just in time.
USA Bobsled officials told Jones she had report by Oct. 26 in order to compete at the team trials. After dashing home to retrieve a warm jacket and ski pants, Jones served out a seven-day quarantine in Lake Placid and passed two COVID tests.
Her weight had dipped as low as 133 pounds on the show because of the stress, which was far off her optimal bobsled weight of 165-170. However, Jones quickly got up to 152 pounds. “I was in quarantine, so I just started eating,” she said.
She found that getting back into a bobsled is just like riding a bike – if that bike tumbles down a hill.
“Everything in my soul got readjusted with the first trip down,” Jones said.
Actually, that was a good thing. “My pelvis was out of place from doing something on the show,” she said, “and I had been trying to get it fixed with a chiropractor for months. Then one trip down the bobsled track with all the G forces and all the rattling and my pelvis was adjusted. It was insane.
“After I went down a few more times, then my body’s like, ‘OK, I know what this is.’”
But once competition began, Jones felt nervous coming back to the sport after such a long layoff.
“Obviously, I want to come back after taking three years off and be the best brakeman, No. 1, the head dog – that would be amazing,” said Jones, who first went out for the team in 2012, “but the situation that I faced this year with so many setbacks, to be able to go in and make a team with limited training, I was just so thrilled. So, now I’m on the team and I can get more reps with Kaillie or any of the pilots and just get more ice time and get stronger.”