Rochester native Lauryn Williams heading back to Olympics in new sport

Lolo Jones recalls the casual conversation. But it's pretty clear she put some real thought into it. She looked at Lauryn Williams, a fellow Olympian and her dinner companion at a track meet last summer, and she thought she would let her in on something.

Ms. Jones had been a member of the U.S. bobsled team as a push athlete since 2012, working toward next month's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Ms. Williams, 30, a native of Rochester was headed toward retirement from track and field, and Ms. Jones saw in her a chance to witness history.

Ms. Jones encouraged Ms. Williams to learn to bobsled. Six months after Ms. Williams joined the race for Russia, Ms. Jones' selfless suggestion was rewarded. They were named to the U.S. bobsled team Sunday night, and, barring injury, they'll become the ninth and 10th athletes in American history to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.

Ms. Jones made her pitch to Ms. Williams knowing there would only be three spots for female push athletes in Sochi.

"Lauryn is a gold and silver medalist," Ms. Jones said. "There are only a few people that have medaled in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. I just thought I could share that with her. She's talented enough, and it would just be amazing to see that history be broken. So I don't know if I hard-core recruited, but it just takes a seed."

"I joined bobsled to be just a helper and add positive energy to the team," Ms. Williams said. "If my name wasn't called, I wasn't going to be upset. I enjoyed this journey, enjoyed the challenge of the steep learning curve, and I think I was satisfied already in that moment. It hasn't sunk in yet that there's more to go, and I'm really looking forward to what's next."

Ms. Williams could not think about the future until the moment she got the good news late Sunday night in Igls, Austria. As of Sunday morning, when she and driver Jamie Greubel took to the course for the last World Cup event with implications for Olympic qualifying, she knew that she had to perform at a high level to leave one last impression on the six-person committee that picked the team.

Conjuring up images from her Olympic past -- Ms. Williams took silver in the 2004 Athens Games in the 100-meter dash, finished fourth in the 100 in the 2008 Beijing Games and was an alternate on the 100-meter relay team that took gold in the 2012 London Games -- she pushed Ms. Greubel to the gold medal with a two-run time of 1 minute, 46.28 seconds, edging out U.S. driver Elana Meyers and push athlete Aja Davis by just 0.13 seconds.

"The pressure was definitely on," Ms. Williams said. "You didn't want to do anything to make you take a step back."

As a push athlete, she is responsible for using her speed and explosiveness to get give her driver an immediate advantage. With two starts of 5.49 seconds, she showed surprising consistency for someone lacking in experience.

Of course, what she doesn't have in bobsled pedigree she more than makes up for with a decade of Olympic memories on which she can lean.

"Each games were different," Ms. Williams said. "In 2004, I was just a kid. I didn't have time to process my nerves. In 2008, I felt like I was going to let the whole country down if I didn't do well there. In 2012, as an alternate, I got to enjoy the whole experience. This is similar to London. My nerves aren't all wrapped up in it, and if I didn't make it today, I was going to cheer for whoever made it."

J. Brady McCollough: or on Twitter @BradyMcCollough. First Published January 19, 2014 6:30 PM

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