DES MOINES, Iowa — Lolo Jones returned from a brief stint as a bobsledder with a gold medal and more strength than ever.
Jones’s power burst has led her to adopt a new starting technique — one she hopes can rejuvenate her hurdling career.
Jones helped the U.S. bobsled team win gold in the combined bobsled-skeleton team event at the world championships in Switzerland in January. The former LSU standout also discovered she was setting personal training bests after pushing around a 400-pound sled for months.
Such power has inspired Jones to try a new seven-step starting technique, which shaves off a step leading to the first hurdle by using longer strides, at this weekend’s Drake Relays.
Jones, who grew up in Des Moines, will run the 100-meter hurdles final on Saturday against London Olympics rivals and medalists Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells.
The meet began in earnest Thursday with a light schedule featuring the heptathlon, decathlon and collegiate long-distance races.
“I’m feeling really strong right now, like Hercules strong,” Jones said.
“Not any other female hurdler really does it, so I’m excited to use that new technique here.”
After another frustrating Olympic experience at the London Games, Jones also found solace and mental relief by taking up the bobsled.
Jones said she felt invigorated and refreshed by a new challenge in ways she never imagined.
“The main thing was how healthy a new distraction and a new goal can be sometimes,” Jones said.
Jones said she was inspired to adopt the new starting technique in part by Aries Merritt. He started doing it in 2012 and wound up winning Olympic gold and later setting a world record in the 110 hurdles of 12.80.
Merritt, who will run the 110 hurdles Friday night, said he was impressed watching Jones test out the seven-step start last week when both competed at a tuneup meet at LSU.
“It’s kind of like being right-handed and then trying to write in cursive with your left hand. It’s that difficult, and she was able to do just like I did last year and pick it pretty quickly. So I’m pretty excited to see what she’s going to do with this new-found approach,” Merritt said.
Drake Relays officials are equally excited to land high-profile newcomers this year like Merritt, who have been lured in part because of the addition of purse money for elite track and field events.
Merritt acknowledged that the $50,000 purse offered for the elite races played a big role in his decision to compete at Drake for the first time.
The meet is also offering $25,000 in purses for the invitational field events.
“At this point in the season, it makes a real big difference on where I go,” Merritt said. “Coming here was a top priority this early in the season because the purse was so nice.”
The money has drawn roughly 20 medalists from the recent London Games, making this perhaps the deepest field in the history of the Drake Relays.
But the elite athletes will have to balance the desire for a big payday against the need to be smart with their conditioning so early in the outdoor season. The U.S. nationals, also in Des Moines, are set for June, leading up for the world championships in Moscow in August.
“You really have to stay focused ahead of you. So you kind of come in here ready to go, ready to jump from your full run. But you have to understand that it is early,” said American pole vault star Jenn Suhr, the gold medalist at the London Games. “A couple months from now is the qualifying that really matters.”
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