Did Lolo Jones, one of the most popular and recognizable Olympians heading to Sochi, have some extra help in making Team USA?
In a story on the website Sports on Earth, former Sports Illustrated and New York Times writer Selena Roberts implies that NBC had a hand in ensuring Jones, who is an Olympic hurdler-turned-bobsledder, would make Team USA's roster. Roberts writes that with Lindsey Vonn sidelined for the Games, Jones is "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 also spoke to the father of Katie Eberling, the woman Jones beat out for a spot on the team.
"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."
In response to Roberts' story, NBC strongly denied any involvement in Jones' selection.
"I haven't read the column and I have a lot of respect for Selena Roberts' work but with regard to that particular story if that is how it is characterized, it is utterly ridiculous," NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said in a conference call.
"Preposterous," NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel said.
The folks over at Business Insider did some digging and, as it turns out, the selection of Jones isn't entirely unreasonable. While Eberling has a better track record over the past few years, Jones has been better in recent competitions. Their 2013/2014 World Cup stats are pretty even.
It's likely we'll never know for sure if Jones was truly chosen on her merits, her popularity or some combination of the two. We do, however, know this -- for the second consecutive Olympics, Jones enters the Games with considerable controversy surrounding her.