Lolo Jones on US Bobsled Team Would Spark Interest in 2014 Winter Olympics

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistOctober 28, 2013

Sep 30, 2013; Park City, UT, USA; Team USA bobsled  competitor Lolo Jones during a portrait session during the Team USA Media Summit at Canyons Grand Summit Hotel. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

There is no question that the Summer Olympics tend to receive more hype and coverage than their winter counterpart, but if Lolo Jones is able to qualify for the United States bobsled team in Sochi, Russia, there is no question that American interest in the 2014 Winter Games will be through the roof.

According to the Associated Press, Jones was named to the American bobsled team, which puts her in line to compete in her first Winter Olympics.

An Olympic berth isn't guaranteed, though, as Jones pointed out on Twitter:

Even so, making the team proves how far she has come as a bobsledder in such a short time. Jones now has a golden opportunity to qualify for the Sochi Olympics as a push athlete along with driver Jazmine Fenlator provided they perform well at the World Cup.

As many as three American teams can qualify for the Olympics, and the team of Jones and Fenlator finished third in U.S. selection races on both Oct. 12 and Oct. 25, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

Jones is a world-class hurdler and has been one of the world's most recognizable Olympians since the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. She was heavily favored to take gold in the 100-meter hurdles in 2008, but she clipped a hurdle and failed to reach the podium.

It was a devastating loss for Jones, but things got worse as a tethered spinal cord threatened her career. Jones persevered, however, and was able to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London. Few gave her a chance to vie for a medal, but she fell just short of the podium as she finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles.

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Despite the fact that Jones was unable to medal in 2008 and 2012, conventional wisdom suggests that she should have been hailed as an Olympic hero nonetheless. She showcased a great deal of grit and determination by even making it to London, but that was seemingly dismissed by the national media as she became a punching bag of sorts.

Jones' credibility as an athlete was viciously attacked by Jere Longman of the New York Times as she was compared to tennis player Anna Kournikova, who became more famous for her looks than her athletic acumen. Longman essentially dismissed Jones' accomplishments and chalked her popularity up to sex appeal.

In addition to that, Jones is a fairly outspoken person, so she tends to make headlines in that regard as well. The most recent example of that came back in June when she posted a Vine on Twitter that featured her complaining about how little money she made during the bobsled season:

While the Vine was obviously tongue-in-cheek, it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way since Jones is one of the most popular and lucrative Olympic athletes in the world. The perception by some was that she was whining though, and it was viewed as a slap in the face to bobsledders who have been underpaid for their entire careers.

Jones is new to the sport, so it took a certain amount of spunk to speak out against low wages. Some hated it and some loved it, but there is no question that everyone took notice.

There is very little middle ground when it comes to Jones, as she has her fair share of supporters and detractors. Jones elicits a reaction regardless of what side of the fence people fall on, and that makes her hugely important to the success of the Sochi Olympics from an American perspective.

It's more difficult for the United States to market Winter Olympics athletes than Summer Olympics athletes since there are far fewer sports to compete in, and many of them are of the fringe variety, which means the general public only sees them every four years.

Bobsledding falls in that category, but Jones can potentially make it the next big sport in America if she is able to qualify for Sochi and have success. Aside from the American men's ice hockey team, there aren't a lot of household names poised to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics that sports fans in the United States can cling on to.

Americans have a great deal of familiarity with Jones though, which means she will naturally be among Team USA's featured athletes if she is able to make it that far. Some will want to watch her succeed and some will want to watch her fail, but no matter what, people will be watching.


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