KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- Elana Meyers (Douglasville, Ga.) and Lauryn Williams (Miami, Fla.) are the overnight leaders after the first day of women’s bobsled Olympic competition at the Sanki Sliding Center. Meyers is looking to upgrade her bronze medal from the 2010 Vancouver Games to a gold here in Sochi, while Williams is on track to becoming only the second person to win gold medals in both the Winter and Summer Games. Jamie Greubel (Newtown, Pa.) and Aja Evans (Chicago, Ill.) made a strong statement in their Olympic debut by posting the third fastest runs of the day to sit comfortably in medal position.
“It feels pretty good, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Meyers said. “It’s not over, it’s a battle, but I feel great and couldn’t be happier about having two U.S. teams in the mix.”
Meyers and Williams set the pace in the first heat with a record-breaking finish time of 57.26 seconds. Reigning Olympic champions Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse were a surprising 0.13 seconds off the pace, but the recently named World Cup champion has been known to make great comebacks.
“Kaillie is a true competitor,” Meyers said. “You can’t count her out, and I knew I had to lay down another great run if we wanted to stay in the lead.”
Greubel and Evans were 0.06 seconds behind the Canadians with a run of 57.45 seconds, and the Americans established a gap of nearly half a second between themselves and the Belgian team of Elfjie Willemsen and Hanna Marien.
Meyers and Williams bettered their start by 0.01 seconds to set the record at 5.12 seconds. USA-1 was again the fastest team to cross the finish line, and they extended their lead over the Canadians to 0.23 seconds with a two-run total time of 1:54.89.
“I did make some mistakes in my second run, but I was allowed to because Lauryn is killer back there with those pushes,” Meyers said.
Williams began the sport just six months ago, when she finished third at U.S. National Push Championships. Known for her dedication and hard work, Williams plugged away at the sport and solidified a spot on the team after pushing to three World Cup medals this season. A seasoned track and field Olympian, Williams was nervous in her winter debut.
“The nerves took me over all day long, and I got on that line and I felt like I was literally going to jump out of my skin,” Williams said. “That’s a good feeling and how I felt in track and field, and I know what that means, it means going fast.”
Williams has competed in three Summer Olympics and is a two-time medalist. She was a member of the gold medal winning 4x100 meter relay team at the 2012 London Games and claimed silver in the 100-meters at the 2008 Athens Games. Only one person in the history of the Olympics has ever won gold medals in both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games. American Eddie Eagan won the light-heayweight boxing gold in the 1920 Antwerp Games, and was a member of the four-man bobsled gold medal winning team 12 years later at the 1932 Lake Placid Games.
“I never imagined I’d be here six months ago, but here I am,” Williams said. “I had no expectations coming into this and it’s always about helping first, and then everything you get to enjoy along way is just extra. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, and if I’m a part of history, that’s really cool, but the main thing is to help Elana get to the bottom as fast as possible”
Greubel and Evans tied Humphries and Moyse for the second fastest pushes of the competition, 5.17 seconds, which helped put them in the top three. Greubel navigated the course in 58.00 seconds to comfortably take third position heading into the finals. USA-2 still holds nearly half a second lead over the Belgian team. A silver medal is within reach for the Americans with 0.33 seconds separating them from team Canada.
“We are hungry to fight to get even better tomorrow,” Greubel said. “We are definitely happy that we’re in the mix, but we’re definitely hungry for more. I was expecting it to be very competitive and I was not complacent in any way coming into this race. I’m just trying to focus on my driving, and when I drive well, the time is going to come.”
“I think I’ll sleep a little more easy tonight,” Evans said. “But we’re never settling and we’re going to keep going after it, so it’s not over until the end.”
Jazmine Fenlator (Wayne, N.J.) and Lolo Jones (Des Moines, Iowa) pushed starts of 5.28 and 5.26 for runs of 58.27 and 58.46 seconds, respectively, to finish the first day of racing in 11th. Fenlator is making her first appearance at the Olympics, while Jones is an accomplished Olympic hurdler. Williams and Jones are just the ninth and 10th Americans to ever compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics.
“It’s my first Olympics and I’ve been antsy to get on the ice,” Fenlator said. “Everyone reacts differently, and I tend to get ahead of myself in the sled, so the first run I made a few crucial mistakes. That’s what I worked on the second run, and we also wanted to be a little faster on the push, and that was executed by Lolo.”
“Everything is kind of what I expected,” Jones said. “I knew it was going to be a really difficult four runs and that we would have to fight for it, so I prepared myself for all of these scenarios.”
All three sleds driven by the U.S. team were made by BMW and unveiled just this October.
The women’s Olympic competition continues with the final two heats of racing at the Sanki Sliding Center tomorrow. The first heat begins at 8:15 p.m.