Lauryn Williams doesn’t remember the last time she saw snow or ice. Temperatures in the 50s make her feel as if she’s freezing. She truly thought her athletic career was ending a few weeks ago.
And now she’s trying to become a rookie bobsledder.
Less than a week after touching a sled for the first time, Williams — a three-time track and field Olympian and a former NCAA 100-meter champion for Miami — finished third Thursday at the U.S. national push championships in Calgary, Alberta. She’ll be heading to the team’s headquarters next week in Lake Placid, N.Y. for a bobsled camp, and is eager to give the sport a try.
“I’m counting myself in, as of today,” Williams said in a telephone interview from Calgary. “I had no expectations coming into it. I was like, ‘Come out here, have a good time, if they like you, great. And if they don’t, that’s OK.’ I really haven’t had a chance to digest it all yet.”
Williams is the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the 100-meter dash and was part of the 4x100-meter relay team that won gold at last year’s London Games. If Williams makes this season’s national bobsled team, she would have a shot at qualifying for the Sochi Olympics in February.
“It’s really exciting,” Williams said.
Aja Evans, a former sprinter who just started in bobsledding about a year ago, won her second consecutive national push title with a combined time of 10.931 seconds in the two-push competition.
“I definitely feel more confident this year after my performances last season, and just having a year of sliding under my belt gives me some added confidence,” Evans said.
Katie Eberling was second in 10.991 seconds, and Williams was third in 11.144 seconds. Emily Azevedo (11.148 seconds) was fourth, and Lolo Jones — the U.S. Olympic hurdler who pushed her way to a World Cup medal in her debut race last year — was fifth in 11.176 seconds.
“The athleticism of this team is incredible and these athletes continue to surprise me every time we do something, whether it’s the combine, push championships, or in the weight room,” said women’s bobsled head coach Todd Hays, a 2002 Olympic medalist. “The level of athleticism is continuing to rise in the sport of bobsled each season, and the addition of Lauryn is a great example of that.”
Williams said her bobsled interest was sparked a bit last season after seeing how some of her longtime track teammates, including Jones, fared in the sliding world. Jones spoke with Williams about her bobsled experience not long ago, and it led to Williams deciding to give it a try.
Williams announced her track retirement in June and took a test on July 19 to become a certified financial planner. The results of that test are due back in a few weeks, but Williams might be well into a bobsledding season by then.
“Today was my third day on a bobsled,” Williams said. “And then I went to the push championships, taking pointers the whole way.”
Williams kept her bobsled trip to Calgary under wraps, not even telling close friends or family members because she had no idea what was going to happen. The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation posted results of a combine that she competed in earlier this week and word quickly spread.
Those close to Williams, such as Amy Deem, her longtime coach at Miami, were not surprised to hear how she fared.
“She is strong and powerful,” Deem said. “She is so excited. The bobsled team will love her.”
Competition for push-athlete spots on the national team this season was already expected to be intense, and Williams’ addition to the mix could make things more competitive.
Williams is the latest track athlete to try crossing over to bobsledding, a sport that puts a premium on the combination of explosiveness, speed and strength — qualities that elite sprinters like Williams tend to possess. She got what amounted to a crash course in technique, though when it was time to race Thursday, Williams said she relied on instinct.
That was good enough.
“They told me to just not think about it, like ‘You don’t know enough to think about it. Just go as fast as you can down there and you’ll be OK,”’ Williams said. “That was really my strategy.”
The U.S. men’s push championships were also Thursday in Calgary, with Chris Fogt narrowly defeating four-time defending champion Steve Langton by 0.042 seconds. Fogt is a 2010 Olympian who was deployed for a year working in military intelligence after the Vancouver Games.
“I was back at square one after my deployment and I had to make my way back on the team,” Fogt said.
Fogt set a Calgary Ice House record for a start from the brakes position; Langton set a facility record for a start from the right side. The left-side push record in Calgary is held by another American, Justin Olsen.
“There’s no one else I’d rather lose to if it had to happen,” Langton said. “I’m elated for Chris.”
Abe Morlu was third in the men’s competition.