By ROBERT STEWART
Tiger Rag Assistant Editor
Ask Lolo Jones about her future, and she can’t give you a straight answer just yet.
The former Tiger hurdler’s original love, track and field, propelled her to her first two Olympic games. But her new beau, bobsledding, launched her into her third Olympiad.
So will she stick with the horse she rode in on, or will she ditch it for the snazzier, newer horse?
Jones doesn’t know.
"I sway back and forth all the time,” Jones said. "The problem is, it just makes me extremely tired doing both of them because I don’t ever get a down season.”
Jones seems to be intent on finding a way to do both, at least until it runs her into the ground.
Regardless, she is having a hell of a time pulling off something few people have ever done — competing in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
About 10,000 athletes will compete in a single summer games, and a few thousand will lace ’em up for a given Winter Olympics.
But an athlete participating in both? That’s rare.
Jones and fellow sprinter/bobsledder Lauryn Williams became only the ninth and 10th Americans ever — male or female — to run in the sun and on the ice when they were chosen for the 2014 United States bobsledding squad.
In fact, Jones is only the second LSU athlete ever to compete in the Winter Games, after former Tiger and Canadian Glenroy Gilbert, who sprinted in the 1996 and 2000 summer games and ran in the 1994 winter games as — you guessed it — a bobsledder.
"They (LSU fans) have plenty of people to cheer for in the Summer Olympics just because we have a few basketball players and obviously track will take at least a minimum of five to the Summer Games,” Jones said. "They really were excited to have somebody to cheer for at the Winter Games, and I had a sense of pride to go there and to compete well.”
Sochi, London and Beijing are a long way from the cornfields of Iowa, where Jones first found her calling as a star track athlete in Des Moines. Named Gatorade’s Midwest Athlete of the Year as a senior, Jones finished her high school career as Iowa’s record holder in the 100-meter hurdles with a 13.4-second time.
So how did a girl from Iowa end up all the way in Louisiana?
Having a dominant program at LSU helped.
"I knew I wanted to go to an SEC school, and I came down here for a visit and I fell in love with the place,” Jones said. "It just had everything that I was looking for.”
Jones came to Baton Rouge and sprinted past the competition.
An 11-time All-American, Jones finished in the top five in the 100-meter hurdles in the outdoor championships three times, including a runner-up finish in 2002. She went undefeated in the 60-meter hurdles indoors in 2003 en route to a national title and lost only one 60-meter hurdle race — the NCAA final, where she finished second — in 2004.
Jones continued to train in Baton Rouge with LSU coach Dennis Shaver after turning pro in 2004. She began to flourish in 2008, winning the world indoor championship in the 60-meter hurdles and placing first in the United States Olympic Trials in the 100-meter hurdles.
A heavy favorite in Beijing, Jones won her preliminary heat, then posted the top time of any runner in the semifinals at 12.43 seconds — the fastest time in the event in the entire Olympics.
The final arrived on Aug. 19, 2008. The gun went off. Toward the end of the race, Jones found herself leading the pack.
But as she approached the ninth hurdle, it all went wrong. Jones clipped it, slowing her down to a near grinding halt. She finished the race but fell into seventh place.
Determined, Jones fought back to return to the American team for the 2012 London games. She finished much better than last time, but she failed to medal at fourth place.
Despite coming up short, Jones described all of her Olympic games as "an amazing experience” — especially when she converted to bobsled.
Looking for a new competitive outlet, Jones jumped on a chance to compete in the sport in 2013, picking up a gold medal at the FIBT World Championships in the combined bobsled-skeleton team event.
Jones impressed Team USA officials enough to be placed on the 2014 Winter Olympics bobsled roster.
The biggest difficulty, Jones said, was the weight she had to gain as a bobsledder — which she had to lose once she began focusing on track again.
"That kind of roller coaster effect, it’s definitely been tough for me to deal with,” Jones said. "For track and field … the longest we would run would be 300 meters. For bobsled, my toughest sprint workout would never be over like 60 meters. It’s an increased emphasis on weights over sprinting.”
Jones had high hopes again, but she and her teammate, Jazmine Fenlator, finished 11th in the two-person bobsled in 2014. But again, she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
"Obviously, track is my heart, but bobsled, I really grew to love it,” she said.
The experience has left Jones facing a conundrum — hurdles or bobsled?
For now, she says she’s focusing on track, with the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro squarely in her sights.
But she won’t lie — bobsledding is still in the back of her mind.
"I just take it season by season, because that’s a long way from now,” Jones said of 2016. "I know I’m definitely mentally and physically committed to pursuing Rio with everything I have.”