By Stacy St. Clair, Chicago Tribune
SOCHI, Russia — In their first training run together here, U.S. bobsled pilot Elana Meyers and brakeman Lauryn Williams crashed into a wall at the end of the track and severely damaged their sled.
Williams — a former sprinting star who only joined the sport seven months ago — took responsibility for the mishap, saying she had applied the brakes too late.
Team mechanics worked through the night to fix the sled and the pair was back on track the next morning, when they posted the fastest time in their training heat.
When U.S. coaches promoted Williams to the No. 1 American sled last week, it was a move not without some risk with the event a few days away. Williams, an Olympic sprinter, has only competed in five international races since joining the team in July. She raced with Meyers just once.
“It’s not really taking a chance when you have one of the fastest women in the world behind you,” Meyers said.
“Unless she doesn’t pull the brakes,” Williams joked.
Meyers wouldn’t hear of it.
“She doesn’t give herself enough credit. This sport is not easy. It’s not easy to come in and push a sled,” she said. “For Lauryn to come in and be in the No. 1 sled this quickly — that’s a true testament to her ability as an athlete.”
The U.S. women’s bobsled team is replete with athletes who quickly adapted to the world of sliding sports. In addition to Williams, brakemen include world indoor hurdle champion Lolo Jones and Aja Evans, a former track and field star at Illinois.
All three could end up on the podium after competition begins Tuesday, though Evans and Williams are more likely to medal than Jones because of their drivers.
Before becoming a Winter Olympian, Williams won gold as part of the women’s 400 relay in London and silver medal in the 100 in Athens in 2004. Jones competed in Beijing and London, but she did not medal.
Williams and Jones are set to become the ninth and 10th American athletes to compete in the Summer and Winter Games.
And by being paired with the team’s top driver, Williams was afforded her best shot at becoming only the second athlete — and first woman — to win gold in both Games. The only person to accomplish this feat is Eddie Eagan, who won boxing gold in 1920 and four-man bobsled gold in 1932.
Jones, who will be paired with U.S. driver Jazmine Fenlator in the third U.S. sled, said pushing a sled is not a simple sport to pick up.
“I’m a very technical personal because I’m a hurdler, so that helped me to break it down,” she said this week. “I don’t think it’s as easy as people assume.”
Evans was paired last week U.S. driver Jamie Greubel, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the world.
“We just need to put together what we know we can do,” Evans said. “Jamie is an amazing driver and I’ve been getting better and better with my technique and stronger and faster. Put those together and we’ll be fine.”
Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT