KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – They were 1-2-3 in the women’s bobsled World Cup points standings this season.
They are the top three sleds headed into in the final two heats in what has developed into a three-team race where the question is who wins gold, silver and bronze?
USA-1 pilot Elana Meyers and brakeman Lauryn Williams (Detroit), who set a track record today, are in first place with a two-heat time of 1:54.89, 0.23 seconds of a Canada-1 pilot Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse and 0.56 ahead of USA-2 pilot Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans.
“We always push each other,” Greubel said. “I know it’s going to be a fight for the top three.”
Greubel leads Belgium-1 by 0.49, putting the top three sleds in strong medal
position headed into the final two heats Wednesday.
USA-3 pilot Jazmine Fenlator and track star Lolo Jones are in 11th place.
The top three teams offer compelling story lines, intrigue and one amazing shot at history from bobsled’s most unlikely gold medal
Jones isn’t the only track star here. Williams is a two-time Olympic medalist in track, including gold at the 2012 London Olympics in the 4x100 relay, and history is within reach. She hopped in a bobsled for the first time in July, and after her first trip down the hill, Williams said bobsledder Bree Schaaf kept checking “to see if my suitcase was still there because she thought I was going to go home. I definitely thought about it.”
Six months later, the former west sider is two strong runs down the mountain from becoming the first woman — and second person — to win a gold medal in the Summer and Winter Olympics.
The friendly, easygoing and humble Williams said Olympic history is not on her mind.
“I didn’t come here for fame, for glory, to get rich or anything like that,” she said. “I’ve thoroughly just been enjoying the ride. I showed up and I said I wanted to help these girls.”
Williams might just help Meyers to a gold medal, too. On their first run, they set a start record in 5.13 seconds and a track record in 57.26 seconds.
“Lauryn came out and gave me a huge start,” Meyers said. “I just tried to be as smooth as possible on the track, and that’s really what I did. There definitely were some mistakes and definitely some areas to clean up.”
Added Williams, to the Associated Press: “Anytime I step on any track, ice track, regular track, any kind of track, my goal is to win,” she said. “So I’m not surprised at all. We prepared well, we did everything we’re supposed to do and we know we’re as good as the rest of the field.”
It was expected Meyers and Humphries would battle for gold. Humphries won the World Cup points title, winning three of eight races, and Meyers was second in the standings, winning two races and placing second in five others.
Looking ahead to the final heat, Meyers and Humphries as the last two sleds going for gold would be a fitting ending to the season.
Humphries, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics gold medalist, and Meyers, who won bronze as a brakeman four years ago, worked out in Calgary together this summer — bobsled’s version of LeBron James and Kevin Durant working out together in the off-season.
“It’s hard to continue to stay motivated and to stay on top, and I knew I needed someone to push me,” Humphries said. “She had agreed that in order for her to be pushed, she needed to be with somebody who can push in the gym and on the track. We call it a Battle Royale.”
For a time during training in the last week, Meyers wondered whether a medal would even be possible. It was a bad week on the track.
Meyers crashed her BMW-built sled on their initial training run, and Williams was late applying the brakes the following day and the pair blasted into a wall near the finish, damaging the front end of the carbon-fibered sliding machine.
However, the incident didn’t crack their relationship.
“The chemistry’s been building the whole time, but I think after we wrecked the sled the other day, that’s when it was solidified,” Meyers said.
Williams was grateful for her driver’s patience.
“That was a bonding moment,” Williams said. “She didn’t yell at all. She was emotional about the sled but she didn’t freak. ‘E’ handled it like a pro.”
On Facebook, Meyers posted a lengthy message saying, “This Olympics has been the most difficult athletic experience of my life. I’ve been beaten up physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
Turns out, the track mishaps were a bonding agent for Meyers and Williams, who raced together just once on the World Cup circuit this season.
“Lauryn has been there for me, and she’s the most positive person I have ever met,” Meyers said. “It’s been incredible. I thought when our sled broke, it was over. She’s held me together.”
Bobsled coaches took a risk pairing Williams with Meyers instead of Evans, who finished in the top three five times in six races with Meyers.
Evans said she questioned the move at first, too. But now she’s on the verge of a medal with Greubel, who overcame a torn ACL in 2011 and paid her own way in Europe to get more driving experience.
Gruebel wasn’t on the World Cup team in 2011-12, but she had to sharpen her driving skills and decided to compete on the Europa Cup tour — bobsled’s minor leagues.
It wasn’t easy. Out of her pocket, she rented rooms, a bobsled and a truck — stick shift, no less — driving from one European mountain to another and racing, never knowing what would come of it.
“We were thinking of ways to be frugal and shipped about 70 pound of dry food — ramen noodles, packets of tuna, protein bars. We didn’t have any money,” Greubel said.
“That was a hard time to get through but made me realize how bad I wanted it and what I was willing to do to get through it. I needed to do it and I got through it, and here I am today.”
On Wednesday, she is two heats from an Olympic medal.
“That was definitely the goal going into the Olympics. Aja and I had (a medal) on our minds,” Greubel said. “It’s right where we want to be, and in a good position to fight back and try to move up.”