KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The words of praise came tumbling out of Lolo Jones, and the tears nearly followed.
"I feel like I'm in the presence of Jesse Owens," Jones said, her eyes beginning to glisten. "When I looked at Lauryn Williams coming out of that sled, I was so emotionally choked up."
Williams did not become the first woman ever to win a gold medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. The Canadian team, with a flawless final run, won gold by a tenth of a second.
But what Williams did by winning silver along with partner Elana Meyers — becoming only the fifth Olympian ever to medal in both seasons — hit a nerve with Jones anyway. It hit a nerve with bronze medalist Jamie Greubel, who called Williams "one of the most incredible athletes ever." It also hit a nerve with former track star Ato Boldon, who came up the mountain from NBC headquarters just to watch Williams race. "I am inspired," he said.
And perhaps most importantly, Williams may have hit a nerve with kids all over the world, who have seen her switch sports and thrive.
"You're going to see a lot of minorities in this sport," Boldon said. "You're going to see them say, 'I was at home and watching Lauryn Williams, and I want to do that.'"
There is much to emulate in Williams, who has risen to fame and glory without seeking either. She had no Olympic dreams at all before her first Olympic year in 2004. She had no bobsled dreams at all as recently as a year ago. She confessed she knows where her 2012 gold medal is, won as part of the American track relay team in London, but she doesn't know the whereabouts of her 2004 100-meter silver medal.
"It really is not about the medal for me," she said on Wednesday. "I don't need something that I can hold in my hand."
Williams' decadelong Olympic odyssey has been flecked with struggle and sadness. She lost her father to a prolonged illness five years ago, and with him a lot of her personal motivation.
"When he passed after '08, the fire in her competitive spirit went out," said Boldon, who is close to Williams. "She said the reason why I can't do track anymore is because I don't get that feeling I used to get. She's gotten it through the bobsled."
Williams said on Wednesday there were many times she wanted to call her dad during the latter days of her track career. Once, in May 2009, she picked up the phone to call him during a car ride and it hit her again that she couldn't. She broke down then and there.
"How to live is what my dad taught me," Williams said. "How to put things together. How to make things work. He was the first person in '04 who said, 'Go out there and do your best. There is no failure when you try your hardest.'"
Williams took those words and put her athletic career back together. She got the idea to move to bobsled from Jones, who recruited her during a conversation in an airport last year. Her first try at the sport, on the speedy track in Lake Placid, didn't go well, and she wondered for days whether she would keep going. But she did. Now she is one of the best in the world at starting — just like she was in track.
"She's picked herself up off the mat," Boldon said. "Her father dying, the end of her career, her personal life. To see where she stands right now, I'm inspired."
Others will be inspired, too. Williams' silver comes only 12 years after another sprinter turned bobsledder, Vonetta Flowers, became the first black Olympian to win a Winter Games gold medal. This week, the American women's bobsled group had five minorities out of six racers.
What's also significant is that Williams reached this point as a member of teams — on a four-woman relay in track and paired here with Meyers. The only time she got the least bit emotional on Wednesday was when she spoke of the quality time she shared with her sled partner.
"I wasn't here to make history," she said. "I was here to help Team USA."
It's clear from listening to Williams that she means it. She is a trailblazer for other women, for other minorities, for everyone. Boldon laughed as he said this about his friend, "That body is made for pushing."
Her character is made for pushing through.
- Sports & Recreation
- Lauryn Williams
- Lolo Jones