PARK CITY, Utah – Jamie Greubel Poser had plenty to celebrate on a frigid Friday night when she won her career-first world cup gold medal on the Park City track – one of two home tracks for U.S. bobsledders.
But instead of focusing on a medal she has longed for since finishing 13th at a Park City World Cup in 2009 – as a brakeman at the time – Greubel Poser knew her victory was not for herself; it was for longtime friend and teammate Steven Holcomb, the nation’s most decorated bobsled driver in history, who died in his sleep earlier this year at age 37.
“It’s very meaningful to win here, especially with everything that’s happened with our team,” Greubel Poser said, referring to the tragedy that has left the U.S. bobsled team learning how to live and compete in a world they had never known until now – one without Holcomb, the five-time world champion, three-time Olympic medalist and 60-time world cup medalist.
“This one was definitely for Holcomb, he was definitely in my heart today.”
The 2014 Olympic bronze medalist’s win was also about redemption. Last week, at the season-opening world cup in Lake Placid, New York – her true home track and the one she has spent the most time on since starting the sport in 2007 – Greubel Poser finished fourth, just 0.01 seconds off the podium, far from how she intended to start her Olympic season.
“It was definitely frustrating because I love Lake Placid,” the 34-year-old said. “That’s my track, I have the track record.”
The frustration of her near-miss in Lake Placid was compounded by the fact that she had hoped to win there, too, for Holcomb.
“Last week I was thinking about him a lot because the year before we had both won our two-man races there, and I was definitely missing him, so to come here and be able to win in his honor in his hometown and on his track was very meaningful to me.”
Greubel Poser’s Park City victory did not belong only to her though – her brakeman at this world cup was Lauren Gibbs and a gold medal shared by the two was a long time coming.
In Gibbs’ 21 world cup starts since first trying the sport in 2014, she has teamed up with Greubel Poser 10 times. They medaled at seven of those 10 – all bronze.
“It means a lot. It’s our first gold medal together. My family’s here. They were here two years ago when we took third, so to win gold here and to push well – and to feel like I contributed to that gold medal is really special,” Gibbs, 33, said.
“And of course because of this being Holcomb’s home track. I don’t think you realize the impact of someone until they’re gone, unfortunately, and it’s still tough every day. It’s just hard not to have him around, and we just try to do the best to keep his legacy alive and do what he would’ve wanted us to do.”
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Greubel Poser and Gibbs’ first win together come in a two-run combined time of 1:40.72, while Canada’s two-time Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries was 0.10 seconds behind with brakeman Melissa Lotholz. Greubel Poser’s teammate Elana Meyers Taylor, pushed Friday by three-time Olympian in track and field and bobsled Lolo Jones, earned bronze in a time of 1:40.99.
The third U.S. sled of Brittany Reinbolt and Aja Evans finished fifth, marking Reinbolt’s best world cup finish outside of Lake Placid, where she was fourth last season with Gibbs.
As the reigning world champion, overall season champion and a two-time Olympic medalist, Meyers Taylor was less than pleased with her bronze medal.
But she found redemption with a blistering start in the second run.
In the first run, Greubel Poser and Gibbs had the fastest start time with a 5.19, while Meyers Taylor – who often sets track start records with nearly any brakeman – and Jones were second that heat in 5.22.
“It sucks when you’re a brakeman and you have to deal with the snow, because then you have no idea what you’re going to get, and then we had the wind too,” Jones said of their first run. “That first start, I’m not going to lie, I was like, ‘WTH.’ I couldn’t figure it out – was it the snow, did we have a headwind, am I slow? All those things start swirling through your head. And the main thing is I felt like I let (Elana) down. She never gets out-pushed, so for her to get out-pushed is terrible.”
Meyers Taylor and Jones made quick work of correcting that, pushing the fastest start time of the race in the second heat – 5.16, while a German sled had the next best push that heat in 5.20.
“I think she was mad we beat her on the first one, so I was like, she’s coming for us,” Gibbs said.
But Meyers Taylor was also disappointed by her finish last week, where she and Gibbs slid together and earned silver in Lake Placid, behind Humphries and Lotholz.
“I’m a slow starter in the season, there’s no doubt about it. Last season, started off the season with a crash (in Whistler, British Columbia) and second place in Placid, so we’re doing better than last year,” she joked.
“It just takes me a while to get comfortable and get in the swing of things, but I’m sure it’ll come around and I’m confident that I’ll be able to put it together by the end of the season. That’s what really matters, and I have to keep it in focus. I’m disappointed about the day, but at the end of the day I’m going to learn from it and move on to next week. Try to win in Whistler – redemption!”