With the retirement of speed skater Apolo Ohno, the withdrawal of skier Lindsey Vonn and no American singles figure skaters as a medal favorite, NBC was short on pre-made star athletes heading into this year's Sochi Games. So clearly the network was pleased with Lolo Jones (and fellow track star Lauryn Williams, a three-time summer Olympian) being selected for the U.S. bobsled team last week. With her high Q rating, social media presence, and as a two-time Summer Olympian, including famously missing out on gold in Beijing after a late stumble in the 100-meter hurdles, Jones has provided NBC with a huge ratings opportunity for a sport that usually doesn't get mega primetime coverage.
On this note, Sports on Earth writer Selena Roberts (a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and sports columnist for the New York Times) wrote a piece Thursday headlined "NOT A GOOD LOOK FOR NBC," which implied NBC had a hand in Jones being named to the team.
"NBC's convenience is another's conspiracy," Roberts wrote. "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.... NBC plays an unspoken role in the team politics of the Games."
During a conference call with NBC officials Thursday, SI.com asked NBC directly whether they had any influence on Jones being on the U.S. team. "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," said NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell.
"Preposterous," added NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel.
What is not up for argument is that NBC will ride the Jones story heavy over the next three weeks. On Tuesday the Today show did a big piece on Jones, centering around her story of "redemption" and "interesting road to Sochi."