BY PEGGY SHINN I NOV. 20, 2013
|Erin Pac and Elana Meyers celebrate their bronze-medal finish
at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 24, 2010.
USA 1-2-3. A podium sweep: gold, silver, bronze. It’s a goal that the U.S. women’s bobsled program has set for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Leading the charge is Elana Meyers. Only three years into her career as a bobsled driver, 29-year-old Meyers has quickly become the top driver on the U.S. women’s team. And her trophy collection illustrates her quick learning curve. She has won medals at the past two FIBT World Championships, as well as the Junior World Championships in 2011.
An Olympic gold medal from the Sochi Games would sit nicely in her collection next to the bronze that she won at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Back then, she was Erin Pac’s brakewoman. She has since transitioned to the driver’s seat.
For Meyers, the best way to reach the Olympic podium is through teamwork. She has helped recruit new brakewomen and frequently writes about the benefits of teamwork on her blog. In women’s bobsled, it’s a fresh perspective that is already paying off. During the 2012-13 season, Meyers claimed four FIBT World Cup medals, while drivers Jamie Greubel and Jazmine Fenlator earned their first.
Teamwork is nothing new for Meyers. The daughter of Eddie Meyers (former Navy and Atlanta Falcons running back), she grew up in Douglasville, Ga., and became a standout softball player.
With a 0.414 batting average at George Washington University, the high school MVP thought she would make it to the Olympic Games in softball. But when the IOC cut the sport from the Olympic program in 2005, Meyers had to find a new way to fulfill her Olympic dream.
She considered weightlifting, track & field, and even speedskating — although she had never skated. After graduating from George Washington in January 2006, she discovered bobsledding and quickly picked up the sport.
A standout push athlete, Meyers made the national team her rookie year, then won a world cup bronze medal a year later. By 2009, she was a world championship silver medalist as the brakewoman in Shauna Rohbock’s bobsled. At the Vancouver Games, in front of friends and family wearing white knit hats specifying their relationship to Meyers (e.g., “Mom of Elana Meyers, USA Bobsled” or “Friend of Elana Meyers”), she and Pac won an Olympic bronze medal.
After the 2010 Games, Meyers tried her hands at driving a bobsled — and her mother joked that her daughter was safer driving a bobsled than driving a car.
Again, she picked up the skills quickly. Within a year, she had claimed a silver medal at the 2011 Junior World Championships (bobsledders can compete as juniors until age 26). The following season she won her first world cup medal, then took a bronze at the 2012 FIBT World Championships on her home track in Lake Placid, N.Y. This past season, she won four world cup medals and claimed the silver at worlds.
Coach Todd Hays is impressed with how quickly Meyers has climbed the learning curve and calls her “an incredible student of the game.”
“She watches tons of film and takes notes for every corner,” he said. “It’s a coach’s dream to have an athlete who wants it and works at it so hard.”
Helping propel Meyers to quick success is her strength at the start. As a brakewoman, she was one of the top push athletes in the world. Now as a driver, she has maintained her strength. Last season, she set several start records with brakewoman Aja Evans, including on the Sochi track.
“If I’ve got two-tenths of a second on the field (at the start), I’m able to make that many more mistakes down the track,” she said.
Olympic gold medalist Steven Holcomb occasionally offers Meyers bobsled driving advice and agreed that her start has helped her achieve success quickly.
“She’s hands down the best push driver in the world,” he said. “She’s still learning the driving. It takes 10-15 years to learn. But her starts are so far ahead that it takes these 10-15 year veterans the entire track to catch up.”
|Elana Meyers poses during the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee photo
shoot on April 27, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Helping Meyers is a strong group of push athletes, including two-time Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones, Katie Eberling and Evans.
“They’re tremendous for this team,” said Meyers after the Lake Placid World Cup in November 2012. “Just their spirit of competitiveness and their willingness to fight for everything brings the whole level of the team up.”
Within this deep pool of talent, Meyers has worked to foster teamwork. Coming from softball, she said that she didn’t know any better. Working with a team, rather than against teammates, was her comfort zone.
“It’s not just for team morale or a personal thing,” said Hays. “She understands that [teamwork] directly affects the results. In the past, there was a bit of every man and woman for themselves. It’s the teams that work together and perform as a unit that get results in this sport.”
With her silver medal from 2013 worlds, Meyers earned a bye onto the world cup this coming season. She will drive USA-1, with Greubel and Fenlator driving USA-2 and -3, respectively. Meyers hopes that good team chemistry among the drivers and brakewomen will yield a podium sweep at the Sochi Games.
Since women’s bobsled debuted on the Olympic program in 2002, U.S. sleds have medaled at every Winter Games (gold in 2002, silver in 2006, bronze in 2010).
“Each of us wants to live up to the great legacy that’s already been built,” Meyers said.
And Meyers wants to be the first U.S. female bobsledder to earn two Olympic medals — and maybe even three or four. She would like to compete in the 2018 Games and possibly again in 2022.
Whatever happens in Sochi, 2014 will forever be memorable for Meyers. Two months after the Closing Ceremony in Sochi (on April 24, 2014), she will marry bobsledder Nic Taylor, who proposed to her on the podium after she received her silver medal at 2013 worlds.
“I’m looking forward to a great year,” said Meyers. “With everything we’ve worked on, we’re going to put together bobsled teams that are really hard to beat.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.