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Lolo Jones gets support from top U.S. women's bobsled driver

2014 SOCHI OLYMPICS

While the U.S. team selection of Jones for the Sochi Olympics remains a controversy, Elana Meyers says the athletes were chosen 'because of the numbers.'

January 24, 2014|By Philip Hersh
  • The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation named Lolo Jones women's bobsled team Sunday, a move some have suggested was due to Jones' popularity and not her production.
The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation named Lolo Jones women's… (Rick Bowmer / Associated…)

The leading U.S. women's bobsled driver has defended the decision that made Lolo Jones one of the three sled pushers on the 2014 Olympic bobsled team.

In a Friday post to her Facebook page, driver Elana Meyers did not mention any of the other athletes by name but said, "The three athletes that were chosen for the Olympic team were chosen because of the numbers they have put up this season."

Sunday, the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation named Jones, Lauryn Williams and Aja Evans as the three sled pushers, or brakemen.

Two of the candidates overlooked, Katie Eberling and Emily Azevedo, both have questioned the decision, as was first reported Thursday by USA Today. In that story, Azevedo suggested the inclusion of Jones owed more to her high profile from track and field than her ability.

"Decisions during the season and the selection process had flaws and inconsistencies, and ultimately an agenda that became clearer as Sochi approached," Eberling said in an email to the Chicago Tribune.

Eberling, going to Sochi as an alternate, did not directly address the question of whether Jones' publicity value factored into the decision.

"Whether I agree or not with the final decision is to no fault of my teammates," Eberling wrote.

Jones, a two-time Olympic hurdler, has not shied from putting herself in the spotlight by doing things like talk about her sex life (or lack of it) on Twitter and national television.

A direct message sent this week to the Tribune from Jones' Twitter account said, "Plz stop saying my publicity will help. that is hurtful to the talent I have and bobsled committee doesn't care about that. We have criteria."

The federation established eight criteria for selection of sled pushers. Seven were relatively mathematical, even if no specifics were given, and one was "driver input." The numbers Meyers referred to have not been made public.

Brakeman Curt Tomasevicz, a U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation athlete representative, said via telephone that Evans and Olympic silver-medal sprinter Williams were "good, solid picks."

"In my opinion, Aja was a clear-cut No. 1," Tomasevicz said. "Lauryn definitely had some great results and was a distant second and not far ahead of the other three."

Tomasevicz, who is to defend his 2010 four-man title in Sochi, was involved in establishing the selection process last summer and signed off on it.

"The process is fair," Tomasevicz said. "The process was followed; that's not the issue. It's a question of, 'Were the right decisions made based on all factors?'

"My job pretty much stops with trying to write the selection process. I really don't think I am in a real position to say whether it was followed clearly or not."

Eberling's primary objection to the process was not having a chance to race with Meyers, by far the top driver, in any of the six World Cup races this season. They won silver and bronze medals together at the last two World Championships.

"Every athlete that raced with Elana this season received the Olympic nod," Eberling wrote. "With our history of success coupled with my push championship results, I was shocked I never received an opportunity in her sled. In fact, I slid with her one day this entire year.

"I am not one to stir up conflict, but those things can't just be swept under the rug."

Darrin Steele, the federation's chief executive, said Eberling may have missed that chance to race with Meyers because of her established track record.

"We needed numbers on Lolo and Lauryn because they're rookies," Steele said in an email. "It wasn't about fairness, it was about collecting data, and we have more data on veterans."

Jones has been a polarizing figure in both track and field and bobsled. When she posted a video of her paycheck from the bobsled federation last June, showing she had received just $741.84 for the whole season, some teammates felt it was an insult to the federation's sponsors.

In the last several months, she has kept a substantially lower profile.

To the question of whether the federation asked her to tone things down, Steele wrote, "It isn't so much about toning it down, it's about understanding the consequences of your actions.

"We don't censor the athletes, but we do remind them of the situations that make them vulnerable and that sometimes personal views can lead to unintended consequences."

In an NBC "Today" show appearance this week, host Savannah Guthrie asked questions only of Jones while her teammates remained in the background.

During a Thursday conference call with reporters, NBC executives were asked whether they had influenced the bobsled decision so Jones could be one of their Sochi stars.

Gary Zenkel, NBC Olympics president, dismissed that idea as "preposterous." Jim Bell, NBC Olympics executive producer, called it "utterly ridiculous."

Earlier in the teleconference, Bell had said of Jones, "Well I think it's great to have a recognizable face and story line from the Summer Games in the Winter Games."

phersh@tribune.com

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