Lauryn Williams on edge of history
SOCHI, Russia -- This is the Summer Olympian-turned-bobsledder we should be paying attention to, not Lolo Jones.
Oh, sure. Jones is a great story. A beautiful young woman who just missed out on a medal in both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games. But Lauryn Williams tops that. Unlike Jones, she hasn't just come close to Olympic medals; she actually has won Olympic medals. She took silver in the 100 meters at the 2004 Olympics and gold in the 4x100 at London in 2012.
And Williams now is in position to do something no woman has before her. She and driver Elana Meyers head into Wednesday's final two runs of the two-woman bobsled leading by 0.23 seconds over the Canadian sled driven by Kaillie Humphries. Americans Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans are in third place, 0.56 seconds back. Jones and driver Jazmine Fenlator are a distant 11th, nearly two seconds back.
If Meyers and Williams hold on to their lead, Williams will become the first woman to win a gold medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. She also will become just the second athlete to do so. Eddie Eagan is the only man to achieve that feat -- winning gold in boxing in the 1920 Summer Games and in the four-man bobsled at the 1932 Winter Games.
"Lauryn has had so much Olympic experience, and I'm so confident in her abilities," Meyers said. "It will be fun to go out No. 1 and throw something down.
"Start speed is killer, and the [top] three [sleds] are killing it with the starts. That's what we try to do as the U.S. team. We come out and try to have fast starts. That's why we have these track stars behind us."
Among the track stars the U.S. team recruited were Jones, Williams and Evans. As she usually does, though, Jones attracted all the attention. The media is in love with Jones, can't get enough of her. She is pictured pushing Meyers in the Sports Illustrated Olympics preview issue even though it is Williams who wound up being chosen to push the top U.S. driver in these Games.
It's not Jones' fault, but do the other athletes ever get annoyed at all the attention she receives when they have their own inspiring stories to relate?
"I didn't come here for fame, for glory, for shine, to get rich or anything," Williams said. "I think whoever gets the attention, it's good for them. And if you guys like covering me, that's awesome. And if you don't, that's cool too. Because I just came here to help Elana."
You think Jones felt heartache in the 2008 Olympics when she tripped on a hurdle with a medal within her reach? Williams competed in Beijing too. She finished fourth in the 100 by five hundredths of a second. And she and Torri Edwards messed up with the baton in the 4x100 relay. Worse, all this was with her father in Beijing watching and also undergoing dialysis treatments for leukemia. He died later that year.
So yeah, Williams knows Olympic heartache.
As is often the case in bobsled, Williams didn't have a great experience her first time down a track. The sport is violent and bone-rattling. That first taste jolted Williams enough that a teammate kept waking up to make sure her suitcase was still there.
"She thought I was going home," Williams said. "And I definitely thought about it the first three or four days. 'What had I gotten myself into?' But I thought I was too far to go back."
So she stayed with it, improved steadily and eventually was paired with Meyers.
Sunday, however, the two crashed their sled in the braking section during a training run.
"We totaled the sled," Meyers said. "That's the hardest hit I've ever taken in a bobsled."
"It was definitely a bonding moment for us," Williams said. "I totally felt like it was my fault, but when Elana got out, she didn't yell, she didn't blame me. Even up to now, she hasn't said it was my fault, where I'm pretty sure it was. [It's great] to see that someone has that much faith in you and that nothing was going to shake us, and she still was going to consider me her teammate and wasn't going to ditch me because I was a rookie."
There were no crashes Tuesday, not even close. After the strong start, Meyers drove the first heat in a track-record time of 57.26 to take the lead over Humphries. Then she and Williams increased the lead in the second heat.
"All day long I've been nervous, well before I got here," Williams said. "I knew something good was going to happen because I was ready to jump out of my skin. And that's a feeling I haven't had in a while in track and field. So it's good to have that feeling back."
Jones knows that Olympic feeling as well, though it is a decidedly different emotion. Trailing by almost two seconds, is she still holding on to any medal hopes?
"I'm just going to take it day by day, for sure. I just want to help Jazmine execute tomorrow," Jones said. "I hope she shows the world what a beautiful driver she is. I'm happy where my teammates are at. Team USA is a wolf pack, and we're ready to support in all aspects."
Meanwhile, Williams may be on the edge of history, but she said she isn't thinking about that yet.
"I've thoroughly just been enjoying the time," she said. "I showed up and said I wanted to help these girls. And everyone was so nice, so willing to give their time and experience. I haven't really experienced that in any other aspect of my life. So it was always about me giving to them because they were always giving to me so freely. That's been my whole goal, to give back to them because they were awesome.
"If I make history, yeah, that's great, but it's really all about helping."
Ready to root for her now?