Lolo Jones' selection to the U.S. Olympic bobsled team is being strongly defended by those who made the pick, amid growing criticism that her popularity played a role in the decision and overshadowed the results of other hopefuls.
Jones was one of three women's push athletes selected for the team that will compete in the Sochi Games next month. She was among five bobsledders who were thought to be serious contenders for the three spots, and many around the team predicted for months that the final call would be difficult.
Jones got the nod over Emily Azevedo and Katie Eberling, both of whom have been in the sport longer and have quality resumes. The decision predictably sparked complaints, even rising to suggestions that NBC and the U.S. Olympic Committee urged bobsled officials to pick Jones.
"I haven't heard anyone making the argument about Lolo not being a better athlete right now, a better brakeman for the team," U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele told The Associated Press. "I don't think I've come across that one time. I've heard a lot about history and all that's nice. But who's going to provide the best results for the U.S. team in Sochi? That's the bottom line. And I'll have that debate with anyone who wants to have it."
Steele said in a telephone interview he double-checked all available data, convincing himself that Jones was the right call.
He insists she was.
"It was incredibly close," Steele said.
It's the latest chapter in what seems to be an Olympic tradition for both the USBSF and Jones herself. In 2002 and 2010, the women's bobsled team faced controversy about push-athlete selection. In 2006, a skeleton coach lost his job shortly before the Turin Games over accusations of sexual harassment that were later proven unfounded.
Jones has long been a lightning rod for critics.
She decided to try bobsledding shortly after finishing fourth in the 100 hurdles at the London Games, where she was ripped by some teammates over why she gets attention and endorsements despite not winning an Olympic medal. Four years earlier in Beijing, she was the favorite in the 100 hurdles and in position to win gold when she hit the next-to-last barrier, finishing seventh.
"I'm here to complete the dream," Jones, who won a World Cup medal in her first start, told the AP earlier this season.