LAKE PLACID, New York — Coming to the season’s first FIBT World Cup, Elana Meyers Taylor had no idea what to expect. The Olympic silver-medal winning bobsled pilot knew that the Lake Placid track was fast. But she also knew that world cup rookies would push the three U.S. women’s two-man sleds.
She ended up leading a Team USA sweep of the podium, with Jazmine Fenlator in second and Jamie Greubel Poser, the bronze medalist in Sochi, Russia, in third. It was the third podium sweep ever for the U.S. women’s team.
“I’m super excited to come away with another sweep,” said Meyers Taylor. “We’ve all worked very hard this season. It’s really a rebuilding year for us, but we’re not trying to let off the gas.”
It was Meyers Taylor’s third world cup gold medal (in individual races) and her brakewoman, Cherrelle Garrett’s, first. A former track star at Cal-Berkeley, Garrett, 25, has been involved with bobsled for a couple of years. But this Lake Placid race was her world cup debut.
“I’m taking one race at a time, one practice, one training run at a time, and hoping for the best,” said Garrett. “I’m feeling really good. But I’m at a loss of words.”
Throughout the week of training, none of the women was thinking of a possible podium sweep — not like last year when they were aiming for 1-2-3 in Sochi.
“We were each working on our driving and making sure we were being consistent, and getting the brakemen into their first world cup race and the whole team into the season,” Greubel Poser said. “It wasn’t something that we talked about. But we’re definitely always wanting to do it.”
The American women last swept a world cup race a year ago in Park City, Utah, when Meyers Taylor won and Greubel Poser and Fenlator tied for second. The first time the women's team accomplished the feat was in 2000, also in Park City, when Jean Racine, Bonny Warner and Jill Bakken finished 1-2-3.
On the Lake Placid track, Meyers Taylor set the pace in the first run, breaking the track record with Garrett.
“I knew we’d be fast, I just didn’t know how fast,” she said. “I was pretty astonished when I came down at the bottom and was like, ‘Is this clock broken?’”
Second run, she and Garrett broke the track start record. Greubel Poser and powerhouse Aja Evans, who pushed Greubel Poser’s sled to bronze in Sochi, held the previous record. Evans is not competing in bobsled this year.
Meyers Taylor’s and Garrett’s overall time, 1:52.68, was 1.12 seconds ahead of Fenlator and Natalie DeRatt in second and 1.36 ahead of Greubel Poser and Lauren Gibbs, who rounded out the podium in third.
DeRatt, 26, ran track at the University of North Carolina-Ashville and first competed in the U.S. bobsled’s combine test (to be considered for the team) this past summer. Gibbs, 30, played volleyball at Brown University and was introduced to bobsled by Meyers Taylor, who heard of her through a teammate at USA Rugby.
Throughout the fall, Meyers Taylor has made the news as one of the first women to compete in four-person bobsled. She first drove a four-persman sled in October this year; she qualified to compete in the world cup and will debut in four-man next weekend in Calgary, Alberta.
She credited her speed today to her four-man experience because it has helped her learn more about bobsled tracks. She now sees tracks “in a whole new way.”
“In a four man, you have to be precise,” she explained. “You have to get on curves on time. You have to do certain things in your sled that you don’t necessarily have to do in a two-man.”
She was worried about loading into her two-man sled today though. In four-man, with three strong guys pushing behind her, the sled comes up to speed quickly, and she loads earlier than in two-man.
“I didn’t want to load early on Cherrelle and leave her running for days,” said Meyers Taylor with a laugh.
When Meyers Taylor and Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries compete in four-man next weekend, they will not be the first ever female bobsled pilots to compete in North America. Among others, Lake Placid native Katharin Dewey won the 1940 Amateur Athletic Union Senior Four-Man Bobsled Championships in a mixed-gender sled. And according to bobsled historian Phil Johnson, bobsled teams were once comprised of five people. The original rules of Bobsled Club of St. Moritz stipulated that two of the five had to be women.
Women were later banned later from championship bobsled races “on the grounds that the sport is too hazardous for them,” reported The Au Sable Forks Record-Post. “Women bobbers then claimed the men were jealous.”
Ironically, after today’s races, Dewey — who died in 1997 — was inducted into the USA Bobsled & Skeleton Hall of Fame.
Meyers Taylor will compete in a few four-man races this winter — and hopes that one day the FIBT will create a four-woman competition.
But her primary goals this season are to win the overall world cup title and slide to a world championship gold medal. Last season, she finished second in the world cup tour, only two points behind Humphries. In the 2012 and 2013 world championships, she won bronze, then silver.
A gold medal would round out her world championship collection, as would an Olympic gold medal. In addition to her silver from the Sochi Games, she won a bronze medal as the brakewoman for Erin Pac at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
They are big goals, especially with a team of rookie brakewomen. But these rookies are adding some freshness to the women’s team.
“It’s a nice feeling to have all these new people around who are so excited about bobsled,” said Greubel Poser. “It just makes it a little more exciting and fun every day because everything that they experience is so new and exciting to them, it reminds you why you love it so much.”
Fenlator misses her Olympic brakewoman, Lolo Jones. But she likes the direction that the team is moving. After Sochi, she said that the three veteran pilots decided to remove the pressure, get back to basics and have fun with bobsled.
“(We decided to) work together to make a team dynamic that’s going to set the pace for the quad,” said Fenlator, “so when we’re going to PyeongChang, no matter who’s still around, whatever the case, that there’s a really good team dynamic.”
On the finish platform at the Lake Placid World Cup, this team dynamic led them to dominate the podium.
“I’m so excited to have the (rookies) start their careers with this type of success,” added Fenlator. “Knowing that this wasn’t easy, and the road is just going to get tougher, they’re ready to go.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.