Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY Sports
If Lolo Jones returns to Lake Placid, N.Y., later this year in hopes of making the Olympic bobsled team, she can expect a frosty reception. After she posted a Vine video on Monday cheekily complaining about her $741.84 check from the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, the most accomplished bobsledder in U.S. history called Jones' comments "a slap in the face."
Olympic gold medalist Steven Holcomb was in the midst of his second weightlifting session when the topic came up at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. "It wasn't taken very well," Holcomb said. "People were really kind of insulted. You just made $741, more than most athletes in the sport. So what are you complaining about?"
"The way it came across to a lot of the athletes here was kind of snobby because she's one of the most well-known athletes in the world and she's making pretty good money in endorsements (as a two-time Olympic hurdler). And to basically turn around and slap us in the face because you didn't make any money this year in bobsledding while taking money from other athletes? She slapped pretty much every athlete in the U.S. federation in the face. That was the general consensus."
In the video Jones says to the camera, "Seven months with bobsled season. The whole season. That's it." On the phone, presumably talking to a mock landlord, she says, "I'm going to be a little late on my rent this month." Then the camera focuses on her paycheck.
On Monday night, Jones released a statement through Red Bull, which is one of her sponsors. "I didn't want to offend anyone, and I've always wanted to help out my bobsled teammates," the statement read. "Some of them have debt because they've given their life to the sport. My partner Jazmine and I had to raise money for the bobsled to be funded just to finish the season, because only 2 of the 3 sleds are funded by the team. I can't imagine halfway through my track season having to stop and raise money to finish.
"The vine of the paycheck is just showing the difference between track and bobsled, and to be honest bobsledders work more hours than track! The bottom line is that all Olympic athletes dedicate their lives to their sports and do not receive lucrative paychecks like athletes in mainstream professional sports. So hopefully this will make people appreciate just how hard Olympians work, often just for the love of the sport."
After being criticized by other bobsledders on Twitter, Jones said that she made the comment to bring attention to the issue. Brock Kreitzburg, a 2006 Olympian, tweeted: "Welcome to the world of bobsledding. Try 7 years of it. I think I left poorer than when I first began. #fortheloveofsport?"
Jones responded: "Speaking out is the first step to change. That is how Track and field changed our sport. We demanded improvements."
U.S. bobsledder Elana Meyers tweeted her thanks to Jones for bringing "the issues to light. Bobsledders aren't high paid pro athletes like you see on TV," Meyers wrote.
The check Jones received was based on her performance in competitions throughout last season. The (FIBT) international bobsled federation contributes money that the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation divides up among the athletes based on results.
Jones and driver Jazmine Fenlator paired to win a silver medal at the World Cup season-opener in Lake Placid. She also helped the Americans win two team-event medals - a bronze at a World Cup in Igls, Austria, and gold in the mixed team event (which is not an Olympic event) at the world championships in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Jones does not receive an athlete stipend through USBSF because she wasn't one of the top push athletes when the season started last year. Those stipends will be re-evaluated beginning in August, when the national push championships are held. The maximum athlete stipend is $2,000 a month, USBSF spokesperson Amanda Bird said.
Last year Holcomb won four gold medals in World Cup races and a bronze at the world championships and his check (from the FIBT pool) was just under $3,000, he said. Holcomb also receives the $2,000 monthly stipend. "She's brand new to the sport and only been doing it for a few months and she's upset because she got $741? I've been doing it for 16 years and I didn't get a whole lot more," he said.
Holcomb acknowledges that more attention needs to be paid to the issue. He said people think he must be a millionaire since he is a gold medalist. Before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Holcomb was $45,000 in debt given the expenses of the sport, especially the price of sleds, which cost $85,000-$100,000 with blades costing up to $10,000 each. After piloting the U.S. four-man team to its first Olympic gold medal in men's bobsledding since 1948, Holcomb was able to erase much of his debt - before accumulating more.
"I'm still living in the Olympic Training Center. I'm 33 years old and still living in a dorm because that's the only thing I can afford," Holcomb said. "After 16 years in the sport, I don't have a dime toward retirement."
All of that said, Holcomb makes it clear he wouldn't do anything differently. "We're not here for the money. We love the sport. I love what I do. I wouldn't trade it for the world."