Two-time Olympic bobsled medalist Elana Meyers is blogging about her quest to compete in four-man bobsled, as well as her experiences in two-woman bobsled, at TeamUSA.org during the 2014-15 season.
After a week of sliding two-man in Lake Placid, New York, to start the season, the team headed out to Park City, Utah, to complete our U.S. national team selection races in both two-man and four-man. Because I have a bye onto the national team in the two-man event, I could use the ice time to mostly focus on four-man and get my team trips down the ice. After just a day of sliding two-man, I couldn’t wait any longer — I needed to get on the ice and my guys needed to start pushing together. The rest of the men would wait a couple more days to begin, so the #TaylorGang would be the first four-man on the ice for the U.S. to start the 2014-15 season — pretty cool if you ask me!
The day of the runs I woke up wide-eyed at 5 a.m. There’s a feeling you get in bobsled, and it’s a very rare feeling, a combination of excitement and nervousness all at the same time. It literally feels like your heart is beating out of your chest. The last time I felt this was not at the Olympics — that’s an entirely different feeling — it was the first time I had to go from the top at Whistler, one of the hardest tracks in the world, as a pilot. I imagine I have that same feeling when I go down the track at Altenberg, Germany, later this year — a track where I’ve seen more horrific bobsled crashes than all other tracks in the world combined. At any rate — I was feeling everything — I was crazy giddy with excitement and completely nervous feeling the pressure to make it down the track in a sled I had never driven before.
Before every training day we do a track walk. We walk the track to examine the curves. This day I was insistent in walking with Brian Shimer, our head coach but also a bronze medalist in the four-man in 2002 on this track. I walked with fellow pilot Jazmine Fenlator, who was completely encouraging and excited, but I was getting more and more nervous by the minute. Shimer gave me a sense of peace during that track walk, a sense that I could do this. I’m not even really sure what he said, but as I walked down the track, I kept shaking my hands to loosen up, and then I didn’t have to anymore. Shimer believed in me and I was going to make this happen.
Back at the top all the women’s bobsledders kept coming up to me and wishing me good luck, which only caused the pressure to build more. As the minutes ticked away, the nervousness grew but I knew I was running out of time before there was only one way to go: down. The session started and the sleds started going down the track. My team and I did a cadence (the pre-start routine to signal the start of the push) and then went to take care of the sled. It was now just me in the start house, along with the other pilots. Two sleds to go. I took a breath, put on my helmet, and tried to walk as fierce as I could to the starting line, trying to keep my composure, after all I had to lead this group of men. The sled was on the ice now and it was time. I looked intently down the track, set up on the block and told myself it’s go time.
And it was awesome! I got down to the bottom after the first run and was laughing hysterically. I had so much fun and it was actually a pretty good trip. I could barely get out of the sled I was so excited and giddy. Everyone kept coming up to me and congratulating me and I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Now we knew I could get down the track, but I had a race to prepare for so it was no longer a question of getting down, but getting down fast.
I had to wait a couple days before I could see how I was doing. For our first two days, the #TaylorGang was the only four-man team on the ice. I had no idea how we were doing for speed, but I worked on improving our trips and the guys were working to push and load faster and faster. We finally had the chance to see where we stood on our third day of four-man training. We were the first four-man down the track, so at the end of our run I still had no idea if we were even in the mix with regards to our downtimes. Low and behold — we were! You see, driving a bobsled is a very solitary thing. You can feel your runs and feel that you’re making positive changes in the track with your driving, but you never really know how fast you are going and you definitely have no sense of how fast you’re going compared to others. To see the times of the other four-man sleds and to know we were within range was all I needed to see. I know I still have much to fix and much to learn about driving a four-man, but all I needed was a chance and I have one. I have no idea what will happen with team trials and where I’ll finish up, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to compete. The competitor in me can’t help but get ahead of myself and want to dominate, but at the end of the day I know that’s not what this is about. This is about starting something — changing our sport — and giving women bobsledders new opportunities. So as we finish our race prep, yes I’m confident that we can content for a top position, but I’m more confident that this will be an experience we all will remember for the rest of our lives. On Saturday, the #TaylorGang will take to the ice for our first race. We’ll pour everything we have into the sled and get to the bottom and see where we stand, and I’ll be proud of us regardless of the number.