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Sochi Olympics: Bobsledding has given ex-GW softball player Elana Meyers an extended athletic career
Question of the Day
Elana Meyers could not have imagined the turn her life would take.
Just seven years ago she was a standout softball player at George Washington University, hoping somehow to continue playing that sport beyond college, but understanding that likely wasn’t a realistic option.
So she created another one. Meyers began training in bobsled, quickly establishing herself as one of the country’s best push athletes and qualifying for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Meyers earned a bronze medal there in a two-woman sled driven by teammate Erin Pac. This time around, it will be Meyers, 29, in the pilot seat when the 2014 Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia this week. She and push athlete Aja Evans will be in the No. 1 sled for the United States and are expected to compete for a gold medal.
“The role of a driver is drastically different than a brakeman,” Meyers said. “As a brakeman we were on a team and we weren’t expected to medal. We didn’t really have any expectations. So now going into my second Olympics in a position where we’re going to contend for a medal, it’s definitely a different perspective.”
Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse of Canada are the favorites to win gold in Sochi. They won the event in Vancouver four years ago. Three German sleds are all strong medal contenders, too.
Team USA’s contingent includes a sled driven by Jamie Greubel with former Olympic gold medal sprinter Lauryn Williams as the push athlete. A third sled is piloted by Jazmine Fenlator with Lolo Jones, yet another former summer Olympian making the switch to bobsled, providing the power.
Meyers, a Douglasville, Ga. native, has driven a sled to gold medals twice during the recent World Cup season and had another three silver-medal finishes. As Meyers proved in 2010, inexperience in bobsled isn’t necessarily a problem for the push athletes. But Team USA’s pilots believe they won’t see anything different at the Olympics than they have during recent World Cup seasons.
Meyers has been in the drivers’ seat since after the Vancouver games. Fenlator took on that role shortly before Vancouver, though she didn’t make that team, and Greubel, another first-time Olympian, also has several years of driving experience now. That shouldn’t be a factor.
“I think how Elana, Jamie and I have developed as pilots, we’ve kind of faced every situation possible, whether it was on the track or off it,” said Fenlator. “Emotionally and physically we’re prepared to be at our best at the Olympic games and to battle to take the podium.”
But maneuvering a sled at 80 miles-per-hour down an icy track isn’t exactly a role any of them envisioned after their college athletic careers ended. Fenlator was on the track team at Rider University. Greubel did the same at Cornell.
Evans, who will help push Meyers to a medal if it happens, just took up the sport last year. She was a college track star at Illinois. Jones and Williams, bigger names in a sport that garners far more attention, were able to make quick transitions, too, after competing in London.
“I definitely watched the Olympics and it was a huge event for my family,” Greubel said. “We’d all huddle up by the coach and be glued to the TV for the two weeks that it was on. But I never made that connection that I could be an Olympian until someone suggested I try bobsled, that I could train and potentially compete.”
It is a familiar story. Meyers realized after a couple of subpar tryouts for the United States’ national softball program and an abbreviated stint as a professional, that the sport was not a path toward the Olympics for her. The International Olympic Committee made that absolutely clear when it dropped softball from the Olympics as sport starting in London in 2012.
“Immediately I thought that it was over,” Meyers said. “But I was never going to stop being an athlete and I knew I was going to do whatever it took to become an athlete. I emailed different sports about opportunities, but they didn’t respond. [USA Bobsled Federation] responded so - here I am.”
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