SOCHI -- A crash ended their training run Saturday. Now a gold medal might be Wednesday’s conclusion for Team USA bobsledders Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams, who finished No. 1 after the first two heats of the women’s two-man bobsleigh competition Tuesday night.
Their combined two-run time of 1:54.89 edged the favored top Canadian sled of Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse by .23 seconds, giving the U.S. a slim but comfortable cushion going into the final two runs Wednesday.
It couldn’t have gone much better at the Sanki Sliding Center for the U.S.’s top sled, especially after the inauspicious start to their Olympic experience. Meyers and Williams, new partners who were just paired together last week, crashed on their first training run in Sochi three days ago.
Williams, a track convert who took up bobsled just seven months ago, pulled her brake too late, causing a head-on collision with the short wall at the end of the track. She’s still learning “that I don’t need to wait three seconds to pull the brake after the finish line,” she said. “I am still in the learning process. Any time I manage to do things, making the adjustment quickly is what I’m mainly focusing on.”
Said Meyers, the sled’s driver who admitted being jolted and banged up from the crash: “It’s not really taking a chance when you have one of the fastest women in the world behind you.”
And that is not hyperbole. It’s the truth. Just two years ago, at the 2012 London Olympics, Williams ran the anchor leg in the qualification rounds for the 4 x 100 meter relay, and earned a gold medal when her teammates later broke a world record in the event.
If she and Meyers can hang on to the lead tomorrow, Williams would become the second person and first woman to win gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. Eddie Eagan won boxing gold in 1920 and a 4-man bobsleigh gold at the Lake Placid Games in 1932.
“All day long I’ve been nervous,” Williams said. “When I got on that line, I knew something good was going to happen because I was jumping out of my skin, and that’s a feeling I hadn’t had for a while. Knowing what that feeling means, it means going fast.”
Though she isn’t thinking about her place in history quite yet, she and fellow U.S. track-turned-bobsled teammate Lolo Jones did become just the ninth and 10th Americans to compete in a Summer and Winter Games.
Jones, who clipped a hurdle in Beijing and then finished fourth in 2012, turned to bobsledding after London, simply looking for something familiar, yet new. And what she found was a team, welcoming and warm. After being “thrown under the bus” by her own teammates in London -- Team USA medalists in the 100-meter hurdles Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells took not-so-veiled shots at Jones in post-race interviews -- her experiences training with the team in Lake Placid were a stark departure from her experiences in track.
“It was like, ‘You’re one of us,’” Jones said. “The first week, they accepted me, embraced me. They lifted me up, and I think it was what I needed to not only be a bobsled athlete but to return back to track with my head held high. So I am just really grateful for them.”
In the U.S.’s third sled, brakeman Jones and her driver Jazmine Fenlator, who was a brakeman just four years ago, finished back in 11th place, 1.84 seconds behind Meyers and Williams. USA-2, with driver Jamie Gruebel and brakeman Aja Evans, took advantage of great starts off the block and finished Tuesday in third place, .33 seconds behind Canada’s Humphries and Moyse.
Like Jones and Williams, Evans also comes from a sprint track background, using her explosive speed and power on the slide. It was particularly evident in the U.S.’s excellent numbers off the block. Williams and Meyers led both heats Tuesday with 5.13- and 5.12-second starts. Even Jones and Fenlator, the U.S.’s slowest sled, had a better average start time than all but two non-American teams.
“Start speed is the killer, and the three of us have the fastest starts,” Meyers said. “That’s what we really try and do…. That’s why we have these track stars behind us.”
If Meyers and Team USA can keep that up on the slide tomorrow, she will have a chance to win the U.S.’s first gold since 2002.
“It feels pretty good, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said. “It's not over. It’s a great battle.”