Whether you were with her or against her this summer, Lolo Jones success and then failure made her one of the memorable faces of the London Games. Sponsors certainly adored her style, while her wide-ranging coverage and her polarizing comments, not to mention the backlash from teammates who though she was getting too much coverage for actions in front of the camera vs. on the track, kept her in the headlines.
Like her or not, there was never a doubt that Jones had star appeal, was an outstanding athletes and had a backstory that made her stand out in a crowd.
Now she goes to try her hand at a much colder Olympic sport, the bobsled. She spent three weeks at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center enduring all the testing and was selected along with another Olympian, 4×100-meter relay gold medalist Tianna Madison, to the U.S. World Cup team as pushers. Where it goes from here and would she make it to the U.S. team for Sochi remains to be seen.
Other male track stars..Willie Gault, Hershel Walker, Renaldo Nehemiah, Edwin Moses…all took to the bobsled to various levels of success (three also spent quality time in the NFL) but only Walker actually advanced to an Olympics.
If Jones continues on it will do wonders for Women’s Bobsled, which is not an A list winter sport for NBC or the American audience.
Why does it make sense for Lolo? First, it puts her in a position to yet again how the world she is a dynamic athlete, not just an intriguing pretty face. Second it keeps her very relevant in the brand marketplace for a cycle heading towards another Olympics in two years, this one in the winter. Third, it is an amazing add-on to brands who have been on the Lolo team over the years, an unexpected boost at a time when they may be re-evaluating their time and work with her. Fourth, It gives her a leg up on sustaining her brand vs. many of the most elite track competitors who will not be front and center in the minds of Americans for the most part of the next three years.
Most importantly it puts her in a position to help a sport gain exposure…a sport which probably should and would welcome the help. Women’s Bobsled with Lolo Jones on board makes the sport a factor in popular culture and that exposure can spill over a bit to athletes on the team who had little shot at breaking through without the Lolo halo. It also helps the USOC in many ways, bringing more casual interest to the Winter Games, which usually lag behind the Summer Games in overall awareness. While there may be some negativity, extra buzz, especially for an Olympics that may lack NHL star power if the league decides to not let its players participate, is a good thing for the USOC, for the bobsled federation, for the sport and for NBC.
If Jones makes the team and gets to Sochi, critics would be hard-pressed to challenge her credibility as an athlete. Few ever make the cross over from summer to winter, especially in a sport which was learned on the fly and is quite dangerous.
Will the Lolo experiment work? We shall see the next step this weekend, but if it does, the marketing machine for a slightly far off Winter Olympics will be starting to dial up just as the first snows of 2012 start to fall.