Friday March 1, 2013

TIM REYNOLDS

AP Sports Writer

Lolo Jones will miss the food.

Her first season as a member of the U.S. national bobsledding team brought her three medals, some much-needed peace of mind, and a newfound appreciation for things that aren’t exactly staples in the world of track and field.

Like, for example, ice cream, pizza and chocolate.

"In the track world, I would eat two carrots and be worried about risking a 12-second race," Jones said. "Now they’re buying me these huge mocha bars."

Yes, it can be said Jones enjoyed her initial taste of bobsledding.

The World Cup sliding season now over, Jones -- a two-time Olympic hurdler for the U.S. -- is back in training on a track that isn’t covered by several inches of ice. Her competitive hurdling season is slated to start in April.

But this fall, she plans to resume pushing bobsleds, inspired now by the chance to compete in next year’s Sochi Olympics.

"When I originally started bobsled, it was just kind of to get away from track for a while, a change of pace," Jones told The Associated Press after a track workout in Baton Rouge, La. "I thought it would be good cross-training. I wanted to make sure I enjoyed bobsled first, and after being in that atmosphere, I got completely engulfed. I would definitely love to be there. It’s not a horrific experience every time I go down in a sled now.

"I want to go to Sochi. I want to help Team USA."

If her bobsled debut year proved anything, it’s that she could help the U.S. medal cause.

Jones and driver Jazmine Fenlator paired to win a silver medal at the World Cup season-opener in Lake Placid, N.Y. She also helped the Americans win two team-event medals -- a bronze at a World Cup in Igls, Austria, and gold at the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

"I wish I would have been able to adjust a little bit faster," Jones said. "But I was surprised that I was able to kind of stick it out. It’s definitely different from track and that was a huge adjustment."

There seemed to be some questions surrounding Jones -- who tends to generate attention with whatever she does anyway -- throughout her first bobsled season. Could she handle being part of a team, especially coming out of an individual sport? ("It’s what I wanted," Jones said.) Could she handle the cold of winter? ("I grew up in Iowa," she said.) Would the USBSF welcome someone who generated so much attention? ("Actually, they protected me," she said.)

Over the season, teammates insisted that they enjoyed being around Jones, who was first invited to try out for the team by U.S. women’s coach Todd Hays in what was primarily thought of as a way to bring in an accomplished world-class athlete to raise morale.

Instead, Hays might have just found a bobsledder.

"The workouts were different than anything I was accustomed to in track," Jones said. "The days were longer. But it worked."

Also different than track: The eating plan.

In track, the saying is "fat doesn’t fly." In bobsled, the saying is "mass pushes mass."

Jones used to compete in hurdling at around 133 pounds. At one point in the bobsled season, she was over 150. A perfect bobsledder is strong and fast, and Jones’ role -- pushing the sled, jumping in and letting the driver and gravity do their jobs -- demands strength, speed and explosiveness.

So she added a lot of new muscle.

And sure, maybe some junk food helped along the way.

"Being able to eat ice cream and chocolate and pizza and being encouraged to put on weight was, I don’t know, like nothing I experienced in my life," Jones said.

"Having somebody tell you that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, it was a really refreshing thing for me. Mentally, it was good for me. It’s not like I’m not eating in track. It’s just different. It’s very healthy, the same things and it gets mundane. Chicken and veggies every day."

Some of the weight is already coming off, thanks to the start of her hurdle-season workouts.

But Jones doesn’t expect to get all the way down to 133 again, and wonders if she even could with her new muscle mass.

"I’m more powerful now, I have a new powerclean max, a new deep-squat max, because I’ve trained with the bobsled team now and I’ve gotten a lot stronger," Jones said. "It’s going to be harder to get rid of muscle and we don’t want to get rid of muscle. I don’t know if I’ll get down as slim as the 133, but I definitely think I’ll be stronger."

She also might be stronger mentally than she was a few months ago.

Jones finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles at the London Olympics last summer, amid criticism from even some of her U.S. track teammates over the level of attention and endorsements she receives. Four years earlier in Beijing, she was the favorite and was in position to win gold when she hit the ninth of 10 hurdles and wound up seventh. Her lifestyle choices when it comes to dating and relationships are constant Twitter fodder.

Bobsled helped quiet down all the noise around her, she said.

"If bobsled brought me one thing, it brought me peace and I was able to just get away," Jones said. "I could have just hid out in my house, but with bobsled I was able to actually get out of my house and go to the French Alps, Swiss Alps and just be one of them -- a USA bobsled teammate and nothing else."