Home News Lolo Jones Back In A...

Lolo Jones Back In A Bobsled After Pandemic Derails Track And Field Plans

By Karen Rosen | Nov. 27, 2020, 4:02 p.m. (ET)

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.”

I was training for Tokyo, I was fully invested, and then everything got shut down due to COVID.

Lolo Jones, Bobsled & Track and Field

Trials Time
Humphries, who had a bye onto the national team based on her 2020 world title, was Jones’ teammate on the first day of the trials. Their chemistry left something to be desired.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, we got a lot of rust to shake off!’” Jones said. “Our timing was way off and that threw my whole run off.”

On the second day, she rode with Nicole Vogt, who was battling to make the team.

“I just told myself, ‘You cannot let Nicole down,’” Jones said.

With a good push and excellent driving, Vogt secured the final driver’s slot behind Humphries and Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor.

Jones is one of seven Team USA push athletes who will compete on the World Cup circuit – as COVID conditions allow. For the Americans, it’s paramount to qualify three sleds for Beijing in 2022 after having only two in PyeongChang.

“I realized that although I hadn’t lost as much as I thought I did, I wasn’t as sharp as I need to be to be able to help these girls if it was an Olympic year,” Jones said. “So I’m really glad I came back this year.”

Trying out the new Olympic event for women, monobob, has even crossed Jones’ mind.

She knows she’ll be 39, pushing 40, if she makes the 2022 Olympic team. While Jay O’Brien was almost 49 years old when he won an Olympic gold medal in 1932 and it was once common for male push athletes to compete into their 40s, Jones is the oldest female push athlete on Team USA.

“I have heard murmurings about my age, and that’s a bit frustrating,” she said, “but I hope to motivate people.”

Humphries’ brakeman, Heather Moyse, was 35 in 2014 and Humphries is 35 now.

“Kaillie has definitely had experience with an older push athlete and it doesn’t intimidate her,” Jones said.

Humphries also allayed some of her nervousness about returning to a team environment, where brakeman selections in the past have sometimes resembled musical chairs.

“Kaillie just wants results, and for me that’s the one thing I needed to be reassured about to return,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘I gave up track and field last time for bobsled,’ and I was nervous to do that again – to do that to my body and my soul – to have great results and then be in a position where those results would maybe be overlooked.”

“Life is Crazy”
After the national team was announced, Jones tweeted, “Guess the secrets out. I’m back in Bobsled!! (two flexed biceps emojis) life is crazy. I competed against Kaillie for years and now we are teammates. (Fist bump emoji) Let’s gooo!”

“I think people were surprised,” Jones said. “Even some of my track friends were like, ‘Wait, what’s (going on)?’ Because it was such a quick transition.”

And it could be her last transition. Jones may only dabble in track and field after this instead of going full-speed toward Tokyo when bobsled ends.

“It’s really hard with Tokyo being delayed a year to transform my body for both (sports),” said Jones, who has had about two years in the past to complete the switch. “And trust me, Kaillie and Kohn have both told me multiple times that I really need to give up track.”

But Jones knows that maintaining her speed helps her be a better bobsled athlete, so she may run some races in the spring or summer.

“I know I can’t focus on both, so I gotta figure out what it is, and right now it’s bobsled fully,” Jones said.

Besides, her track event, the 100 hurdles, is one the most competitive events in the United States.

“Yeah, the odds are stacked against me,” said Jones. “The world record holder (Kendra Harrison) didn’t even make the Olympic team last Olympics. But what I love about the hurdles is it has the unique ability to shake things up. You can be the fastest and not make it and you can have one of the slowest times and make it and I’ve experienced both.

“So you can never really count anybody out in the hurdles.”

The event has also given Jones more than her share of heartache. The two-time world indoor champion was on her way to victory in Beijing in 2008 when she stumbled over the penultimate hurdle, finishing seventh. In 2012, Jones was fourth in London, placing behind teammates Dawn Harper, who won the silver, and Kellie Wells, who took the bronze. Jones was a tenth of a second off the podium.

“I might go out and run some track races,” she said, “and run a terrible time and I’m like, “OK,, it’s done… it’s totally over, you’re good, go back to bobsled.’ But I don’t have to make that decision until I’ve run a few races.”

In the meantime, she’ll return to Lake Placid after Thanksgiving and the only runners she’ll concentrate on will be on the bottom of a bobsled.

“I’m finally just happy I can take a deep breath or have a regular schedule for the first time this year,” Jones said.

She enjoys having a routine, finally working out in a weight room and “feeding off other athletes’ energy and goals.”

Jones also appreciates a sport “that lets me eat whatever I want to eat.”

“I’m all in for this team,” she added. “I’m here to perform my best for Team USA. And I am going to give it everything I have left to get on any team, to get on the Olympic team, to get on the podium.”

It’s her biggest challenge.

Related Athletes

head shot

Lolo Jones