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Hurdle queen turns medal dreams to ice

Bobsledder Lolo Jones poses for a portrait during the 2013 U.S. Olympic Team Media Summit in Park City, Utah September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Luc
Bobsledder Lolo Jones poses for a portrait during the 2013 U.S. Olympic Team Media Summit in Park City, Utah September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Luc

By Justin Palmer

(Reuters) - Track and field star Lolo Jones is the most high-profile crossover athlete to try her hand at winter sports since former NFL running back Herschel Walker took off his shoulder pads and climbed into a bobsled.

The American, best known for throwing away the chance of Olympic gold with the 100 meters hurdles crown at her mercy in Beijing in 2008, has again put her track career on the back burner in the winter months in a bid to make it to the Sochi Games.

Jones, 31, is in her second season as a push athlete, or brakewoman - hoping to earn selection as the U.S. seek a first gold in two-woman bobsleigh since it was introduced at the Salt Lake games in 2002.

She enjoyed a decent first season but her participation in Sochi is far from certain with this season not quite going to plan and it appears she is locked in a three-way battle for one spot.

"Last year, I was just soaking everything in. It was an adventure, it was fun, it was nothing really on the line for me," Jones said. "It was just kind of an escape and there were no expectations. So now coming into my second year, they expect me to be more knowledgeable and more of a leader."

Earlier this month Jones talked about her frustration over the uncertainty of the selection process.

"It's so frustrating right now, even for our pilots. They felt like they would have a sense of who they would be racing with, so even they're getting antsy," she told the Des Moines Register.

The Iowan has found the switch back and forth from her two sports a challenging one.

"The first year I had so much adrenaline because everything was new but then when you do a whole bobsled season and go immediately to track and then immediately back to bobsled, now it is hard. I'm like 'Oh my God, how much longer can I do this'.

"I think the hardest thing is where I don't have those four months where I can just kind of breath and let go and do fun things.

"I seem to be always travelling. I'm home one month a year, that's just insane."

Getting to grips with the different bodyweights and physique needed for track and bobsleigh has also not been easy.

CHOCOLATE CAKE

In the summer months she must watch what she eats but must put the weight back, in muscle, to power a bobsled in a sport where the tiny fractions of a second can make all the difference.

"They are two different sports so you don't burn each other out. I can eat whatever I want for bobsled so it is kind of like a break even though it's not. I can have chocolate cake and stuff like that all the time now."

Jones is not the only female American track and field-bobsleigh convert competing for a place in Sochi, having helped recruit Lauryn Williams.

But while former world 100 meters champion Williams, now retired from the track, can boast Olympic gold in her collection - as part of 4x100m relay team in London last year - Jones's track exploits have been a story of so near but so far.

Jones had Olympic gold at her mercy in Beijing when she powered to the front in the final 30 meters, only to clout the penultimate hurdle and lose all momentum, staggering over the line in seventh.

While team mate Dawn Harper celebrated victory, a forlorn Jones was face down on the track, her tears concealed by the hands covering her watery eyes.

Four years later in London she produced a season's best in the final but that was only good enough for fourth, one tenth of a second outside the medals.

"I'm inspired by failure," she says on the homepage of her website. "The process of defeat - picking yourself back up again is the hardest thing in the world".

With her poster-girl looks and seemingly never shy of an opinion, Jones has courted controversy more than once with her social media posts.

She upset team mates by mocking her low wages for her work with the U.S. bobsledding team.

Jones later clarified her comments, saying: "I've been at both ends. In track and field there are athletes who are absolutely struggling, who have jobs, who have to quit track because they can't make any money.

"In bobsled you have the top athletes in the world who still have jobs. That was definitely an eye opener for sure because in track we kind of have that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

"In track you just have to ride the wave and know your time will come."

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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