(News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan is profiling U.S. athletes leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, which begin Feb. 7)
One thing you can count on at an Olympics: Where Lolo Jones goes, controversy will follow. Jones will make history in Russia when she becomes one of 10 athletes to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games. Last month, she was named the third brakeman on the third women's bobsled after just two years in the sport. Lauryn Williams a former Olympic sprinter, is also on the team.
But Jones' selection caused resentment among several American bobsledders, who felt the choice was more a reflection of her fame than her talent. "I should have been working harder on gaining Twitter followers than gaining muscle mass," said Emily Azevedo, one of the women who lost out to Jones.
"My name was called and it was a deep sigh of relief," Jones told USA Today.
Jones, 31, competed in the hurdles for the U.S. in the Beijing and London Olympics. She was expected to medal in the 100-meter hurdles in 2008, but clipped a hurdle near the end of the race and finished seventh. She finished fourth in London. Jones was criticized during those Games by veteran New York Times writer Jere Longman, who said the attention Jones received was "based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign."
It's no wonder her rapid ascent in bobsled has caused such conflicting feelings. Jones, a three-time track NCAA champion, is a terrific athlete, but a polarizing figure who has never won an Olympic medal. She caused a stir in a 2012 interview by announcing that she was a virgin. She was interviewed on Jay Leno before the London Games. She recently appeared on Today and the NBC Nightly News.
Last year, Jones posted a video of her modest paycheck from the U.S. bobsled federation, upsetting some of her national teammates. Still, it was the federation that picked her for the team. While Jones is on the weakest of the three women's sleds and not expected to medal, the U.S. bobsled leaders felt she was a worthy choice.
"I haven't heard anyone making the argument about Lolo not being a better athlete right now," said Darrin Steele, CEO of the U.S. Bobsled and Skelton Federation.