Track stars garner attention for sport
Selections tarnish sport's credibility
Bobsledding has an image problem, and you don't need to look much farther than "Cool Runnings" to find it.
Now that track stars Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams will represent the United States in Sochi next month, you might think bobsledding has made itself the comedy of Olympic disciplines.
But that's not the case. Jones and Williams are actually going to be great for the U.S. team.
Here's why: Jones and Williams are not athletes who completed a couch-to-Olympian-in-two-weeks program. They are actual Olympians. They have been elite athletes all their lives, albeit in a different sport. It's not exactly a Jackie Robinson-at-UCLA, four-sport feat they are pulling, but all of their innate athleticism -- coupled with weight training, nutritional knowledge and discipline -- translates.
People might look at bobsled and assume it's a shallow discipline if even two track stars can make the Olympic team, but this ignores their credentials when it comes to sports.
Jones, and her talent for saying things that either delight or irritate the people who hear them, is also a publicity magnet. Whether it's tweeting a photo of her check for training or attracting criticism from her Olympic teammates in London, Jones finds her way into the news.
So if figure skating was destined to make the prime-time slots of the Olympic broadcast, now there's a chance that the bobsledders could be there as well. Does Jones do the sledding equivalent of missing a hurdle? Do her teammates smirk if she misses the medal?
That kind of attention isn't pure appreciation for a sport, but that doesn't mean it won't engender some. And Jones has fans as well as detractors who might find they enjoy speed when applied to ice instead of a padded oval.
Maybe it's just me, but I like to think of the Olympics as the ultimate athletic competition, an athlete's final destination after a lifetime of daily training, after 10,000 hours of fine-tuning a specific skill.
Perhaps the above statement is slightly dramatic. Slightly. But you get the point: All that sweat and tears for a moment of glory, etc., etc. Isn't that what raises the stakes at the Olympics, knowing that you're watching someone who has risked everything for this one chance? I don't want to think of an Olympic sport, any Olympic sport, as something you can pick up in the offseason just before we select our teams.
Obviously, here I am talking about the U.S. bobsled team, which as of this weekend officially includes track stars Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams. Jones is 31 years old and is one of the most well-known female athletes on the planet. Williams is 30 and not quite the global star that Jones is, but she is the owner of two Olympic medals (a gold in the 4x100 at the London Olympics; a silver in the 100 at the Athens Olympics).
For me, their inclusion says more about the sport than anything else. And I'm not sure knowing that the discipline can be picked up in such a short amount of time is a great thing for bobsledding. Of course, I'm not silly enough to reject the positives this will create for the sport, as I'm sure the folks over at NBC are already figuring out how to make women's bobsledding a prime-time event.
Yes, the inclusion of Jones and Williams adds a mainstream, compelling storyline where before there was none. I get that. But I also think, in another very important way, it cheapens the sport and makes it less likely that young kids will gravitate toward bobsledding. After all, it seems to be something you can come to later in life -- "later in life" being a relative term, of course.
In the end, I'm not sold this is great for bobsledding, although I'm definitely sold that it's great for NBC.