USBSF defending Jones’s selection to Olympic team
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2013, photo, Jazmine Fenlator, right, and Lolo Jones look up after coming to a stop after racing in the U.S. women's bobsled team Olympic trials in Park City, Utah. The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is defending Jones' selection to the team picked to compete in the Sochi Olympics, saying it relied on data, results and nothing else. Jones is one of three athletes picked to push sleds in Sochi. She was named to the team Sunday night, Jan. 19. The federation has gotten a number of complaints since suggesting that it chose Jones because of her popularity. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Lolo Jones “absolutely” earned her spot on the U.S. Olympic bobsled team, the federation’s top officer said last night, insisting the selection committee relied only on data and results in making its picks.
U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele told the Associated Press that he even double-checked all the numbers that were pored over while deciding on the three push athletes for the women’s team that will compete in Sochi.
Steele said it was “incredibly close” between Jones, Emily Azevedo and Katie Eberling for what amounted to the final spot. The USBSF has gotten a number of complaints about Jones’s selection, mainly through emails and social media, though Steele remains convinced that the two-time Summer Olympic hurdler who is often a lightning rod for critics was the right pick.
“Nobody put any pressure on us,” Steele said. “We haven’t made a single deal based on Lolo Jones.”
Aja Evans, Lauryn Williams and Jones were the three push athletes picked for the women’s team. All are first-time Winter Olympians, though Williams is a veteran of the summer version and helped the U.S. win a gold medal in the 400-meter relay at the London Games in 2012.
The criticism, however, has almost exclusively stemmed from Jones’s selection. She tried out for the team in the fall of 2012, surprised many observers by actually making the roster, and helped the U.S. win a medal in her very first World Cup race.
“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.”
Azevedo and Eberling both have accomplished résumés. Many around the team thought Azevedo was at her best this season, and Eberling has world-championship medals along with three World Cup medals from this season alone in her collection. Plus, both have been in the sport longer than Jones, who is expected to team with pilot Jazmine Fenlator in Sochi.
In the end, the committee went with Jones, and Steele said it was not easy.
“Our job is to put together the best possible team to represent the country,” Steele said.
By now, Jones is surely used to a certain level of drama at Olympic time.
She decided to try bobsledding shortly after finishing fourth in the 100 hurdles at the London Olympics and dealing with widespread criticism – including from teammates – over the attention and endorsements she generates. Four years earlier in Beijing, she was the favorite and was in position to win gold when she hit the ninth of 10 hurdles and wound up seventh.
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.
“At the end of the day, the selection committee, we don’t look at Twitter or anyone outside our sport,” Steele said. “We’re more concerned about inside our sport. There’s a lot of factors in making our decisions. Performance is the biggest one.”