Story by Stephen Mazzone
Long Jump photo by Don Rich (from 2011 USATF T&F Championships)
Bobsled photos courtesy of Nathan Crumpton
The demands of a heptathlete have taken their toll on 2008 U.S. Olympic silver medalist Hyleas Fountain. The latest in a series of injuries that began after her surprising performance in Beijing occurred this past summer at the Games in London where lower back pains forced Fountain to withdraw from her specialty on the final day of competition.
But even though the injuries have been frustrating, they have not punctured the heart of the former Central Dauphin East (Penn.) High star, who has hopes for a third straight Olympic appearance in 2016 at the ripe age of 35.
“I can guarantee I won’t be training for the heptathlon,” said Fountain, about the event that includes the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200, long jump, javelin and 800. “You won’t find too many (in their mid-30s) competing in it. It’s a young girl sport. I will be focusing on the long jump and the hurdles.”
In between her attempt for a trip to Rio de Janeiro, the two-time Olympian is looking to accomplish something she believes that no other female athlete has ever done – medal in both the Summer and Winter Games. Fountain has been spending time training in Lake Placid the last few weeks where she is taking the first step to an improbable journey to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where she has her eyes set on making the U.S. Bobsled team.
“I finished London, didn’t do so well and said maybe I will start another journey in life,” Fountain stated last week.
Fountain’s plans to place herself in a gravity-powered sled that zips more than 80-miles an hour down an ice track about 1,200- to 1,300-meters in length didn’t actually begin after her misfortunes this summer. While she was attending college at the University of Georgia, where she was a four-time NCAA individual champion – twice for indoor track (pentathlon, long jump) and twice for outdoor track (heptathlon, long jump) – she was first approached to try the fast-paced sport.
The fire was lit shortly after when she was persuaded to give the event a try by 2010 bronze medalist Elana Meyers at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. With the athleticism that is required to be an elite track and field athlete, people such as Fountain are often recruited to be bobsledders.
In the past, other track athletes such as sprinters Willie Gault and Hershel Walker, hurdler Edwin Moses and sprinter/long jumper Vonetta Flowers have made the switch. Flowers, a seven-time NCAA champion from the University of Alabama in Birmingham, earned gold in the bobsled at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
“In the bobsled, they want someone with power and speed,” she said. “That’s something that (track) athletes have.”
Fountain has been a quick learner in the art of bobsledding. Prior to last Friday when she went down an ice track for the first time, she has been practicing on a push track. A push track is essentially a bobsled on wheels that runs down a small hill on rails. It is used so that bobsledders can train year around and not have to rely on training primarily in the winter or at a location where the weather is always cold.
“We do a lot of pushing,” Fountain said. “I don’t really know a training schedule, but I know there is a lot of pushing.”
At the recent U.S. Bobsled Push Championships in Lake Placid on Oct. 5, Fountain finished fourth overall. Aja Evans won the title and fellow Olympic track athletes Tianna Madison and Lolo Jones tied for fifth and tied for seventh, respectively.
“I came in confident,” Fountain said. “I always go into something confident. If you do, it can go a long way.”
On a push track, athletes wear sprint spikes for speed. The track simulates an ice track where it’s flat for about 20 meters and then goes downhill for about 20 meters before the final person (or brakeman) jumps into the bobsled.
“The push track is different (from an ice track). I thought it would be a little heavier and it actually wasn’t as heavy as I thought it would be,” said Fountain, while making reference to the standard two-person bobsled, which weighs just over 300 pounds. “Once you push it, because it’s on wheels, it is not as hard. It’s actually faster on wheels.”
Fountain, who is still focusing on track and field, estimates she puts in about three hours a day of training. Upper body strength is essential for bobsledders, so her weight-lifting has been boosted up a notch.
“It all depends. (One day last week) I did a bike workout and stairs,” she said. “It just depends. Sometimes I am training for more than one event. I go to the weight room. I go to the chiropractor. I get massages. It can be a lot.”
“I am training for both (track and bobsledding),” she added. “It’s a little trying at times, but I’m a tough cookie.”
The team competition in women’s bobsledding involves just two-person sleds. It was introduced in the 2002 Olympics. Who is chosen for a sled is never easy.
“I don’t even understand it,” Fountain said. “Some people work well with other people. There are so many different variables as far as who goes with whom.”
Fountain, whose primary track events at Central Dauphin East were the high jump and hurdles, is looking forward to possibly attaining history as a bobsledder. She’ll be competing in the U.S. Bobsled Team Championships on Oct. 27.
She is determined to make the America’s Cup and World Cup teams and, more importantly, the Olympic squad.
Fountain has already experienced the thrill of medaling at the Olympics. She did that in Beijing where she originally earned a bronze medal but was later given the silver when Lyudmila Blonska of Ukraine was stripped of that medal after she tested positive for the anabolic steroid methyl testosterone.
“That was one of my dreams to make it to the Olympic Games,” she said. “Everyone’s dream is to get an Olympic medal. I didn’t have high expectations. I wasn’t nervous. I gave it 100 percent and made it to the podium.”
The Games this past summer didn’t fare quite as well. Fountain had to withdraw during the second day of competition because of her lower back pain.
“I blew out my sciatic nerve and then I did the long jump,” she said. “I shouldn’t have done it. That made it even worse to the point where I was limping. I tried to finish. I went to the javelin, overcompensated on my throw and my ribs went out of place and I threw out my arm.”
A neck injury deterred Fountain’s chances in the 2009 World Championships and hamstring problems forced her to pull out of the 800, the final event, at the 2011 World Championships. Again, she still has the Summer Games on her mind in four years, but she’s also excited about what the winter can bring in 2014.
A medal, perhaps?
“I don’t know one woman who has medaled in the summer and winter,” she said. “It’s a goal to shoot for. It will be amazing. It will be awesome.”