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Defending Lolo Jones

Sure, NBC wants a familiar face, but maybe... just maybe... Lolo was selected to the Olympic team for her performance

I know, girl. I can't believe what Selena said either.
I know, girl. I can't believe what Selena said either.

Selena Roberts is crying wolf over Lolo Jones making yet another Olympic team. If you're not up on the story, after the London Games, Lolo took up the bobsled and tried to make the Winter Olympic team. This isn't that odd of sport switch, as many bobsledders are former sprinters. That's the Jamaican team in a nutshell.

So Jones tries out a new sport, earns an international rank, and makes the Olympic team. The U.S. team has three sleds in the field, and Jones is likely the last person on the squad. She's not a favorite to medal, just like in London, but it's still a neat little story about someone chasing that Olympic dream as far as it can take them.

That apparently has ruffled the feathers of Selena Roberts, who can't quite allege corruption, but sure wants to insinuate it.

A day later, Lolo was solo on the screen again. Just the glossy star in a knit cap and a wintery backdrop, fielding questions via satellite from Today show host Savannah Guthrie, who gushed over her vindication journey from London Games flop in track to redemption in Russia via the bobsled. As the two spoke, the network rolled old footage of Guthrie and Jones in a kitchen together brewing up health shakes in 2012.

Now it's clear: This is the two-straw love affair that NBC needed after losing Lindsey Vonn. Lolo is the replacement star, the sex appeal sub for the injured ski queen, a hot storyline to ride down bobsled's serpentine track. NBC's convenience is another's conspiracy.

Roberts is swinging so wildly here in this hatchet job, she might accidentally hurt someone. First, how did Lolo flop in London? She wasn't a medal favorite, and she finished fourth. She ran a great race and was beaten. A sprinter's career is usually pretty short, and her window was the Beijing Games. Lolo just fighting back to make London was a victory.

Now, shock of all shocks, TV likes familiar pretty faces. Jones making the team is a pretty neat story and she's an athlete even the most causal Olympic watcher might be familiar with, so of course the Today show would like to have her on. I highly doubt Lolo will be the centerpiece of NBC's coverage, but it's not surprising they would want to interview her before the Games in a puff piece.

Suddenly, Roberts equates one segment on the morning show to advertise the Games into a conspiracy. What proof of this conspiracy is Roberts going to present us with in her devastating takedown of US Bobsled?

Somewhere in Middle America, the fans of Katie Eberling, the humble bobsledder from Palos Hills, Ill., were reaching for the Rolaids. Eberling, the most decorated brakeman on the team and a three-year veteran with a history of superior times, was left off the Olympic squad. Instead, she will be the alternate and stand by her team with congratulations for all, but Katie's grace doesn't make the selection issue go away. As her father, Hal Eberling, said in a phone interview on Tuesday, "It's a mystery to me. I wish someone would explain how Lolo is on the team." He remained diplomatic despite the disappointment and financial sacrifice of the family. U.S. bobsled officials were not made available for comment this week. But on the team's official site, where the hardcore bobsled fans flock to comment, there was outrage at the snub. A "disgrace" and "all politics," they posted. As another mentioned, "I guess [Katie] doesn't have as many Twitter followers." In that tale of the tweet tape, Lolo has 374,000 to Eberling's 796.

Yeah, she counted twitter followers.

That's not all! Roberts also scored an interview with someone's dad, and he's mildly upset. Additionally, people on a message board are outraged. That's right, Roberts is using the time-honored journalistic technique of scrolling through the comments. The sun wouldn't rise if someone wasn't complaining about something on an internet comment section.

Her next bit of proof?

In close calls in Olympic sports, where some teams leave wiggle room in the rules on judgment day, U.S. Olympic officials tend to rely on Q scores. In figure skating, the close call went to Ashley Wagner over Mirai Nagasu despite the results at U.S. Nationals. This is what's best for the team, skating officials said, a theme repeated by bobsled leaders, all echoing the same phony jargon that the Karolyi clan uses when choosing the last gymnast for U.S. teams.

The Karolyi Method of subjective selection -- honed by Bela and Martha as the relentless pushers of pixies -- has always been designed with NBC in mind. It was U.S. gymnastics leaders who lured the Karolyi duo back into the fold after their 1996 Atlanta Games miracle team began slipping from relevance without them just three years later. As I reported for The New York Times in 2000, U.S. gymnastic officials acknowledged, in private, feeling the pressure to deliver for the peacock network, which hoped that the preening Bela would carry its coverage in Sydney in 2000. The team disintegrated, but the wreckage was a ratings hit.

Ummm... Selena? Didn't you just say that bobsled officials were "not made available for comment?" Yup, it's in the previous paragraph. But now, bobsled officials are "repeating a theme?" Out of curiosity... how? Smoke signals? If the officials didn't comment, how could they now be repeating a theme?

Then you compare bobsled to figure skating. Look, I don't want to break it to you, but figure skating is a sport so vile and corrupt that it only exists so boxing fans have something to look down on. Accusing figure skating of being rigged is like a shocking expose on the results of Wrestlemania. We know.

Yes, I don't doubt figure skating and gymnastics spend time and energy worrying about what NBC wants. Of course, bobsled occupies an entirely different spot on the Olympic program. Figure skating will likely be featured on NBC's prime time coverage every single night. Gymnastics also occupies a huge place in the NBC programming lineup during the summer Games. Those are the cash cows, and the reason networks pay ungodly sums of money for the Olympics.

Bobsled? Bobsled will be lucky to get ten minutes of coverage in prime time on any given night. Heck, they would be lucky to get ten minutes of prime time coverage in the entire Olympics. Last Winter Olympics, NBC barely showed the men's downhill, only one of the premier events of the Games.

NBC couldn't give two craps what the US Bobsled team does. OK, they would like the women to medal, as they are favorite to win gold. They'll show that run, their biggest competitors for the medal, and then Lolo's team. Her presence expands bobsled's presence in the prime time lineup from infinitesimal to marginal. It's not going to move their ratings at all.

But Roberts glosses over the results, which to me seems pretty key. If you're going to allege corruption, it would be nice to show us how the team is ignoring the results. It would also be nice to show how NBC had any influence on the bobsled team instead of pointing out that figure skating is rife with corruption.

I don't know how the US Olympic Committee selects the bobsled team or what criteria they use, but I do have access to the recent results thanks to this crazy new invention, the internet, which enabled me to access the FIBT website. Let's compare Jones and Eberling's recent results, which I would think would play a sizeable role in selection.

Katie Eberling

17thWorld Cup St. Moritz (January 11, 2014)
3rd World Cup Lake Placid (December 14, 2013)
3rd World Cup Park City (December 6, 2013)

Lolo Jones

7th World Cup Igls (January 19, 2014)
2nd World Cup Winterberg (January 2, 2014)
2nd World Cup Park City (December 7, 2013)

I'll admit I don't know much about bobsled, but it seems to me that Lolo Jones has the results on the World Cup circuit this year to justify her selection. Maybe Eberling is the better pusher and she just had a bit of a slump recently. That's entirely possible. But if you're going to argue that Lolo Jones doesn't have the results to justify and Olympic spot and is only on the team due to politics, it helps if you actually list the results.

Yes, Lolo Jones has more twitter followers. She also has finished better than Eberling in her last three World Cup events. I'll leave it up to you which was more important to the US Bobsled team.