KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — She scrambled to find her camera before the flower ceremony began. Lolo Jones wasn’t going to miss any of it.
She wasn’t going to let her American teammates down. Not now.
And as Elana Myers, Lauryn Williams, Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans stood on the podium and soaked in the applause after winning Olympic silver and bronze medals in women’s bobsled, Jones knelt nearby recording every moment. She never stopped smiling and even screamed, “U-S-A.”
This moment wasn’t about Jones, and that was just fine.
She didn’t get a medal, again, but this Olympic experienced trumped them all.
At last, she felt satisfied.
“Bobsled has made me stronger,” Jones said a few minutes later, her eyes filled with tears. “The lesson in humbleness is definitely gold for sure.”
Jones, who switched from track to bobsled to escape disappointment and continue her quest to win an Olympic medal after twice failing in the Summer Games, finished 11th on Wednesday night as the brakeman for driver Jazmine Fenlator in USA-3. In this race, Jones was never a factor.
Unlike Beijing in 2008, when Jones led the 100-meter hurdles before hitting the ninth one, there wasn’t any late mistake. Unlike London in 2010, when she finished 0.10 seconds shy of a bronze, there wasn’t any heartbreak. On an icy mountainside track in Russia, Jones finally walked away feeling like a champion.
Jones has grown tight with her teammates, who never doubted her commitment from the time she showed up to train. They dubbed themselves the “wolfpack,” and when Jones and Fenlator realized they were going to miss seeing USA-1 and USA-2 make their final runs down the Sanki Sliding Center track, they cut short TV interviews and ran to the finish area.
Still a relative newcomer to the sport, Jones wasn’t sure what was happening in the frantic final minutes of the fourth heat as Greubel and Evans took bronze and Meyers and Williams were bumped from gold by Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse in Canada-1.
Jones’ nerves were on edge as she watched on the TV monitors, and she was unaware of the final standings when she rushed on the track to embrace her teammates.
“I congratulated Jamie,” she said. “I said, ‘Congratulations on the silver.’ And she said, ‘We got bronze.’ And I was like ‘It’s a medal!!! I don’t care if it’s a chocolate medal.'”
Jones didn’t want to talk about herself afterward. She praised Williams, who won medals in the Summer and Winter Games, comparing the sprinting dynamo to legendary Olympian Jesse Owens. Jones had kind words for Fenlator, the soft-yet-tough New Jersey girl who competed in these games knowing her ill mother was at home cheering her on.
Jones had something positive to say about each one of her American sliding sisters. Having run in her own lane for so long, they had taught her went it meant to be a team player.
“These are my teammates and unlike track and field, I have lived with each one of these girls,” Jones said. “I’ve lived with Jamie, Aja, Lauryn. I’ve worked with them 12, 15 hours a day. I’ve taken eight hour-car rides, four girls in a car for eight hours. They are our mini-family.
“I know everything they’ve gone through, every tear they’ve cried. I just want to be there and lift them up and cheer as loud as I can for them because I know if I was on the podium, they would do the same for me.”
Accused by some of drawing attention to herself, Jones willingly shared the spotlight.
Her selection to the U.S. team had spawned controversy by those who felt American coaches had succumbed to outside pressure to bring her to Sochi. But her teammates felt she belonged. They were the ones who saw her sand runners and pull sleds, and Jones was the one who lured Williams to the sport.
“Lolo has been a trooper through the whole time,” Meyers said. “She recruited Lauryn, so to be in that situation and to recruit such a strong athlete and have the confidence to say, you’re going to compete against me for a spot, that speaks loads about Lolo’s character and I think she doesn’t get enough credit for how hard she works and how she’s dedicated to Team USA.”
After USA-3 made its final run, Fenlator climbed from the sled disappointed. She had wanted to medal and tried to apologize to Jones, who wouldn’t hear it.
“I told her: ‘You can’t be discouraged, my first Olympics was a nightmare,'” Jones said with a laugh. “I think we’re good teammates because I can lift her up and tell her to keep fighting for it. This was a good day for USA bobsled. This was historic, and I honestly just want to go celebrate with them.”
Jones now plans to take some time off so her body can recover. She hasn’t decided about her future in bobsled, but Fenlator promised to “reel her back in” for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang.
Jones may still be chasing a medal, but she’s found a better reward.
She’s on a team, and that’s more valuable than anything gold, silver or bronze.