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USBSF defending Jones' selection to Olympic team

Lolo Jones Makes U.S. Bobsled Team

Lolo Jones' selection to the U.S. Olympic bobsled team is being strongly defended by those who made the pick, amid growing criticism that her popularity played a role in the decision and overshadowed the results of other hopefuls.

Jones was one of three women's push athletes selected for the team that will compete in the Sochi Games next month. She was among five bobsledders who were thought to be serious contenders for the three spots, and many around the team predicted for months that the final call would be difficult.

Jones got the nod over Emily Azevedo and Katie Eberling, both of whom have been in the sport longer and have quality resumes. The decision predictably sparked complaints, even rising to suggestions that NBC and the U.S. Olympic Committee urged bobsled officials to pick Jones.

"I haven't heard anyone making the argument about Lolo not being a better athlete right now, a better brakeman for the team," U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele told The Associated Press. "I don't think I've come across that one time. I've heard a lot about history and all that's nice. But who's going to provide the best results for the U.S. team in Sochi? That's the bottom line. And I'll have that debate with anyone who wants to have it."

Steele said in a telephone interview he double-checked all available data, convincing himself that Jones was the right call.

He insists she was.

"It was incredibly close," Steele said.

It's the latest chapter in what seems to be an Olympic tradition for both the USBSF and Jones herself. In 2002 and 2010, the women's bobsled team faced controversy about push-athlete selection. In 2006, a skeleton coach lost his job shortly before the Turin Games over accusations of sexual harassment that were later proven unfounded.

Jones has long been a lightning rod for critics.

She decided to try bobsledding shortly after finishing fourth in the 100 hurdles at the London Games, where she was ripped by some teammates over why she gets attention and endorsements despite not winning an Olympic medal. Four years earlier in Beijing, she was the favorite in the 100 hurdles and in position to win gold when she hit the next-to-last barrier, finishing seventh.

"I'm here to complete the dream," Jones, who won a World Cup medal in her first start, told the AP earlier this season.

Aja Evans and Lauryn Williams are the other Sochi-bound push athletes, on a team with pilots Jamie Greubel, Elana Meyers and Jazmine Fenlator. Williams - a veteran Olympic sprinter and gold medalist from the 400-meter relay at the London Games - sat in a bobsled for the first time less than four months ago, yet her selection to the team is far more warmly received than Jones' pick.

"This is an emotional situation," Steele said. "She brings a lot of baggage with her. I don't see that side of her. I kind of respect that she's not guarded. The reality is it's easy to look for an excuse, especially when it's close. I can see the logic when people don't understand the sport. I'm a little disappointed with some of the people inside the sport who make the same statements."

Many team observers thought Azevedo was at her best this season, and Eberling has world-championship medals and World Cup medals in her collection. Plus, both have been in the sport longer than Jones.

Azevedo and Eberling both told USA Today Sports that Jones' popularity swung the scales unfairly.

"I feel this year there was a certain agenda," Eberling told the paper. "It's no fault of my teammates. There's been a lot of inconsistencies and that makes you wonder what's going on. It's not right."

Jones has made headlines for plenty of reasons. She's been public about her choice regarding abstaining from premarital sex, once challenged former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand to a race without knowing he was paralyzed, and took some heat last year when she tried to make a joke about the $741 check she received for prize money won in sliding.

Still, there is no denying her popularity, and her presence on the team has helped bring more exposure than possibly ever to U.S. women's bobsledding in the last 16 months.

Steele said a USOC marketing official once asked him if Jones would make the team, but insisted it had no bearing on what the six-person selection committee decided.

"Nobody put any pressure on us," Steele said. "We haven't made a single deal based on Lolo Jones."

Join the discussion

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Jeff January 24 2014 at 4:06 PM

Hmmm, I didn't read anything about her not being qualified, or deserving, I heard excuses like she didn't win this or that before, or that she is more popular, or she hasn't been involved in this sport long enough and I am reading that this is coming from those who wanted in and didn't get in. What I did read is that the competition was very close and some had to lose a spot and she won the spot. Not having a medal in the sport doesn't mean you can't get one the next time you compete and since when is being popular such a bad thing, I bet those who aren't so popular wish they were more popular, certainly now at least if you believe their argument. It is my understanding that she works hard, is determined, and won a her slot because those who choose felt she deserved this chance this time around because she was the best choice THIS TIME around. In other words.. this is her time, her shot and I hope she wins because if she doesn't all those people with the excuses of why she shouldn't be there will be all over the media saying I told you so and that will be wrong. The pressure on this young lady is far greater now because of this pettiness than it needs to be. Frankly I hope she steps up and the team wins, but remember it is a TEAM sport and not an individual sport. If they happen to lose, it shouldn't ever be strictly directed toward Lolo, and if they win, it won't be just because of Lolo either! Go Team USA do your best to win and remember if you don't that's okay as long as you did your best!

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krbulldogs January 24 2014 at 3:28 PM

This is like when Herschel Walker was picked to do this. Need someone fast and strong to push. She must fit the bill.

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Carole Ann January 24 2014 at 3:22 PM

It says iit would be a hard call to make so matter who they picked it would probably cause a controversy. I'll just wish the team Good Luck in a very hard sport for USA anyway.

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Patricia,,,,, January 24 2014 at 3:21 PM

I saw a couple of interviews she did...all she did was whine about not winning the last olympics...She should be glad she even got to compete .....Very few do...But she just said how depressed she was and whine whine....

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fern63dalejoe January 24 2014 at 7:08 PM

I think you have to have a kinda funny first name to be part of the team.

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kariewcpa January 24 2014 at 3:18 PM

This is all about winning, nothing else. Sprinters havew long been asked to push for bobsled, the start is all important. Back in 88 WILLIE GAULT was on the US Olympic team as a pusher, he also competed in track as well as football. Sports is all about 'what have you done for me LATELY'. Past medals and winning means nothing. Popularity doesn't either, or Mirai Nagasu would be going to Sochi as part of the figure skating team.

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2 replies
rich kariewcpa January 24 2014 at 3:27 PM

Believe you are right that Gault was on the team. However, if memory serves me correctly the team finished near last. Gault couldn't catch a football either. Just because you can run doesn't make you an overall athlete.

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mrkite129 kariewcpa January 24 2014 at 3:36 PM

Herschel Walker gave it a go as well.

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kennyzeke January 24 2014 at 7:12 PM

If you believe Steeles BS ..........you fill in the blanks.

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oakmountainflooring January 24 2014 at 3:16 PM

TWO WORDS - Vonetta Flowers!!! Anyone remember the 2002 Olympics when she became the first African American woman to win a gold medal in Winter Games?

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Mike January 24 2014 at 7:42 PM

Nothing changed here, politics as usual.

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vbrbumps January 24 2014 at 8:24 PM

It should about ability and not popularity when any team is selected

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