Bobsled: The case for Lolo Jones

Updated with Hyleas Fountain news

Perhaps I’m being paranoid in thinking people are going to gripe about the news that Lolo Jones has made the U.S. team for the upcoming World Cup bobsled season.

Let’s check Twitter and collect all the insane reaction, shall we?

OK, that’s funny.

Yes, that’s true.

http://twitter.com/TheDon_D/status/261453438603378688

And most of the other reaction has been either a simple “congratulations” or a weak reference to Cool Runnings. Maybe the crazies on Twitter aren’t morning people.

So maybe this is a non-controversy. But just in case people are skeptical about Jones’ inclusion on the World Cup roster, let’s take a closer look.

Here’s the existing roster listed on the USA Bobsled and Skeleton site:

Drivers:
– Elana Meyers (2012 World Championship bronze; as push athlete, won 2010 Olympic bronze),
– Jazmine Fenlator (one full year on World Cup)
Bree Schaaf (2010 Olympian, 5th place)

Push athletes:
– Emily Azevedo (2010 Olympian, 5th place)
– Katie Eberling (2012 World Championship bronze)
– Ingrid Marcum (bobsledder/weightlifter in mid-30s)
– Brittany Reinbolt (football player — yes, American football — with little experience)
Hillary Werth (not much experience)

Last season, a few others appeared on the World Cup circuit — drivers Jamie Greubel and Megan Hill, along with push athletes Ida Bernstein and Nicole Vogt. But typically, USA I and USA II were some combination of Meyers, Schaaf, Azevedo and Eberling. And they were the only U.S. athletes with top-10 finishes. The World Championship results: Meyers/Eberling 3rd, Fenlator/Marcum 10th, Schaaf/Azevedo.

So the team wasn’t really settled beyond the top two sleds. Marcum’s Twitter feed, with the great handle IronValkyrie, makes a vague reference to an injury, which likely accounts for her absence from the selection process this fall.

The selection started with a push competition, where a few Olympic athletes gave it a try. The results, with returnees in bold and Olympic guests in bold italic:

1. Aja Evans 9.65 (4.84, 4.81); 2. Katie Eberling 9.78 (4.88, 4.94); 3. Cherrelle Garrett 9.99 (5.02, 4.97); 4. Hyleas Fountain 10.01 (5.00, 5.01); 5. Emily Azevedo 10.04 (5.01, 5.03); 5. Tianna Madison 10.04 (5.03, 5.01); 7. Lolo Jones 10.11 (5.07, 5.04); 7. Maureen Ajoku 10.11 (5.04, 5.07); 9. Tracey Stewart 10.13 (5.09, 5.04); 10. Kristi Koplin 10.15 (5.007, 5.08); 11. Ida Bernstein 10.18 (5.07, 5.11); 12. Brittany Reinbolt 10.30 (5.14, 5.16); 13. Nicole Vogt 10.66 (5.33, 5.33); 14. Katie Steingraber 10.73 (5.36, 5.37); 15. Micaela Damas 10.79 (5.39, 5.40); 16. Sinead Corley 10.84 (5.35, 5.49);

Those results might make you think these Olympians are picking up the sport rather quickly. Here’s what women’s bobsled coach Todd Hays, whom you might remember from past Olympic medal runs, had to say at the start competition:

It’s great to see talented athletes like this give back to their USA teammates. And it’s of course a great opportunity for a coach like me to test his recruitment skills by trying to get these athletes to commit to our sports. I’m not successful yet, but we’ll see if we can entice them to give it a try.

Fountain (@Hept_Chic) said she had fun, and she congratulated Jones this morning. But she wasn’t in the full selection races. (Update: Slight injury, apparently.) Madison and Jones were there, though Madison just rode as a fore-runner with driver Elana Meyers, who got a bye thanks to her World Championship results last year. Eberling also didn’t compete. The rest of the top nine from the push championships competed.

The first selection race results:

1. Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans 1:56.96 (58.50, 58.46); 2. Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones 1:57.01 (58.46, 58.55); 3. Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo 1:57.80 (58.82, 58.98); 4. Megan Hill and Maureen Ajoka 2:00.96 (1:00.36, 1:00.60); 5. Katelyn Kelly and Tracey Stewart 2:01.36 (1:00.79, 1:00.57);

Big gap there between the top three and the next two. And rookie push athlete Aja Evans was clearly legit.

Schaaf then decided she wasn’t fully fit after hip surgery. She’s heading back to rehab. That makes the driver selections rather easy, especially after the second selection race:

1. Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans 1:55.94 (57.56, 58.38); 2. Jazmine Fenlator and Cherrelle Garrett 1:55.99 (57.67, 58.32); 3. Katelyn Kelly and Tracey Stewart 1:59.49 (59.68, 59.81); 4. Megan Hill and Maureen Ajoka 1:59.50 (59.26, 1:00.24);

The World Cup team will have three drivers in three sleds, so with Schaaf out, it’s rather obvious: Meyers, Greubel, Fenlator.

Then they decided to take six push athletes. Eberling and Azevedo are the returnees with world or Olympic medals. Then there’s Evans, the rookie who left Lake Placid with a start record. Garrett, like Evans a former college track athlete, showed enough to get a look. And then two summer Olympians — Madison and Jones.

So what’s really going on here?

The USA’s results last year weren’t that great, and the team is still looking for the right mix of athletes. Like a national soccer team two years out from the World Cup, they’re experimenting.

And if you look at the selected athletes, you see Jones is far from a shoo-in for Sochi 2014. The USA will get three sleds — at most — in the Olympics. Eberling and Azevedo have the experience, and their results this fall have been good. Then Evans is the hotshot rookie. That leaves Jones, Madison and Garrett competing to push (pardon the pun) one of those athletes out of the top three.

The competition might go right up to the last weeks before Sochi, and what seems set in stone now might not be the case in a year. Remember Jean Racine and Jennifer Davidson, the dominant duo before Salt Lake 2002?

We’ll see if 2014 proves to be controversial as well. For now, it’s not. Lolo Jones is one of a handful of track and field athletes giving bobsled a shot, and she has shown enough potential to get a shot in international competition.

And if anyone sees it otherwise, please refer him or her to this post. If nothing else, maybe their eyes will glaze over reading through the results.

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