(C) Elana Meyers Taylor and Lake Kwaza celebrate after the two-woman bobsled race on day 1 of the 2019 IBSF World Cup Bobsled & Skeleton on Feb. 15, 2019 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Elana Meyers Taylor is the most successful U.S. women’s bobsledder ever. And the 34-year-old three-time Olympic medalist put an exclamation point on that statement, coming from behind to win a world cup on her home track.
On an uncharacteristically balmy winter day in Lake Placid, Meyers Taylor and brakewoman Lake Kwaza overcame a first-run deficit of 0.11 seconds to win the IBSF World Cup Bobsled 2018/19 Lake Placid. Their two-run time was 1:54.79, 0.38 seconds ahead of Canada’s Christine de Bruin and Kristen Bujnowski (1:55.17) and 0.48 ahead of Germany’s Stephanie Schneider and Deborah Levi (1:55.27).
It was the first time all season that 2018 Olympic gold medalist and world cup leader Mariama Jamanka of Germany has not finished on the podium. She was a close fourth, only one hundredth of a second behind her teammate.
“It’s very, very exciting,” Meyers Taylor said of the win. “It’s been a difficult year. We’re in a rebuilding phase. So to come out and get a win, I’m super excited.”
To look at this season’s bobsled results, it is difficult to tell that Meyers Taylor has struggled. She has finished on every world cup podium but one. She was disqualified in the first world cup in December because her sled was too light; she was in bronze-medal position until the DQ.
Then in late January, at the world cup in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Meyers Taylor won with her 2018 Olympic sled-mate, Lauren Gibbs. Her win snapped Germany’s 24-race win streak.
Had Meyers Taylor maintained third place in the first world cup, she would now be ranked second overall in the women’s bobsled standings, just 27 points behind Jamanka. But the Lake Placid win pulled her up to fourth overall, with one world cup left on the schedule.
It’s a sign that Meyers Taylor has fully healed from an Achilles tear in her left ankle that she struggled with at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, where she won her second silver medal (and third Olympic medal).
Kwaza, 25, has pushed Meyers Taylor’s sled to four of those podium finishes this season. A track sprinter from the University of Iowa (class of 2016), Kwaza first tried bobsled in 2017; this is her first season competing on the world cup tour.
“That was my goal, I wanted to finish top three every chance I got to be in the back of the sled,” said Kwaza. “So far, so good.”
Her best track events were the 60-meter indoors and the 200 outdoors. She competed in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field in the 200-meter, running in the same preliminary heat as six-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix. Kwaza finished sixth, missing the semifinals by 0.36 seconds.
Bobsled coach Mike Dionne reached out to Kwaza in 2016 and 2017 and convinced her to try bobsled. It’s been a good fit. On the second run in Lake Placid, Meyers Taylor and Kwaza were only 0.05 seconds off the track start record (set by Meyers Taylor and two-time Olympian Aja Evans in 2017).
Meyers Taylor is balancing her successful bobsled season with a new job as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. Last week, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with senators about creating opportunities for girls and women in sports.
Her main goal with the Foundation is to improve gender equity, particularly in leadership and management positions in sports.
“Right now, women are severely underrepresented,” she said after her win. “I think [2006 Olympic silver medalist] Shauna Rohbock is one of the only female coaches on tour. To have such little gender equity among coaching staff, that’s something we need to fix. We’re putting programs in place to do that across all sports.”
She sees her work with the WSF as adding to her bobsled career. In her own sport, Meyers Taylor would also like the international federation to add four-woman bobsled to the schedule. She also opposes a reduction in sled weight that was mandated three years ago.
Total sled weight was reduced 15 kilograms, from 340 kg. to 325 kg. (750 pounds down to 716.5 pounds). Sleds must weigh 165 kg., down from 170, while the combined crew weight is down 10 kilograms to 160 kg. (353 pounds).
The object of the weight reduction was to allow countries with smaller athletes to be competitive. The IBSF did not impose the same weight restrictions on the men and their two-man sleds.
“I think it actually hurts our sport in the fact that it makes the sleds a lot harder to drive,” she explained. “Ever since we’ve changed the weight limit and made it lower, you’ve seen a lot more crashes in races. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think they need to reconsider the weight change.”
She also doesn’t appreciate the mandate on women to control their weight — a hot topic for many women.
“To have to lose weight and worry about what you’re eating every week, it’s stressful,” she said, “especially when you see the guys eating ice cream and eating all this food, and we’re like, why can’t we do that?”
In addition to juggling bobsled and leading a major sports organization, Meyers Taylor also considered getting back to her first sport: softball. She took up bobsled in the mid-2000s after the IOC dropped softball from the Olympic program. Asked if she plans to add softball to her busy schedule now that the sport is back for the 2020 Games, Meyers Taylor laughed. But not because she was joking.
“I wanted to,” she admitted. “But with the Achilles injury last year, I wasn’t able to even throw a ball. Realistically, I needed to start something last summer to give it a go. I still might try to throw a ball around again. But as far as Olympic competition, I don’t think there’s any chance I’d be ready.”
In the immediate future is the 2019 bobsled world championships in Whistler, British Columbia, in early March. Meyers Taylor is the defending women’s world champion, and she won an Olympic bronze medal on that track as a brakeman in Erin Pac’s sled at the 2010 Games.
This win in Lake Placid bodes well for that competition.
“Getting Lake a win, that's huge,” Meyers Taylor said. “She did really well, especially second run, really brought it. Being confident we have brakemen who can win on any given day, that’s huge, just being in there and having the experience to fight.
“And that’s what world championships is going to take: four runs of fighting.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.