Three former top-level female track athletes will bid to complete a remarkable transformation into winter sports stars when they take to the bobsleigh track at the Sochi Olympics.
Ex-100m hurdler Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams, a gold medalist with the US’ 4x100m relay team at the 2012 London Games, will represent the US bobsled team with Australia’s former two-time world 400m hurdles champion Jana Pittman also making the trip to Russia.
Jones — a two-time world indoor hurdles champion who finished fourth in London — and Williams become the ninth and 10th US athletes to compete in both Summer and Winter Games.
Neither athlete had even tried bobsled until 2012 when they were recruited after the London Games.
“It felt like someone put me in a can and threw me off of Mount Everest,” Jones said after her first trip in a sled.
As a “push athlete,” Jones proved to be a quick learner, winning a gold medal in the mixed team event at the World Championships last year.
“It honestly takes nowhere near two years to compete at a high level in bobsled if you have the required attributes,” said US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation start coach Stuart McMillan.
The duo both compete as push athletes, whose role is to push the sled from the block for up to 40m and then jump in, relying heavily on explosive sprinting capabilities.
However, the selection of Jones, who consumed 9,000 calories a day to bulk up her lithe hurdler’s body, has not come without some criticism, with some critics arguing that she was picked for her telegenic looks and high-profile positioning on social media.
Yet Jones remains focused on what lies ahead for the two-women bobsled, which made its Olympic debut at Salt Lake City in 2002.
“There are some skills that will transfer from track, obviously the running behind the bobsled, but other than that, there is actually a lot that I had to learn,” Jones said.
“You just have to be really strong and powerful for bobsled, and there’s really no sport like it. It’s not like you can practice this sport in high school or middle school.”
Williams, the 100m runner-up at the 2004 Athens Olympics, added: “You really have to come there and have no knowledge about it and then just have to learn everything so very quickly. It takes a lot of help from your teammates.”
“It’s a lot of people just moulding together at the same time. It’s been a challenge. It’s definitely more challenging than track and field in that aspect,” she said.
Meanwhile, Jana Pittman’s selection for the Australian bobsleigh team sees her become the country’s first woman to compete in a Summer and Winter Games, having already competed at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and Athens four years later.
“I really thought my career was over,” Pittman told olympics.com.au in reference to calling it a day in hurdling in 2012 and trying her hand at rowing and boxing before settling on bobsleigh.
Pittman will partner Astrid Radjenovic.
“Astrid is only one 10th, two 10ths of a second off the leaders, so she has been looking for someone with a lot of speed and power for a while,” Pittman said.
“If we can train well — hopefully we can become top six at the Olympics,” she said.
“You just don’t know — it’s a very different sport. I have the physical attributes, it’s just now whether I can put it together in the split second we take off,” she added.