KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The crash didn’t break them, it bonded them.
Lauryn Williams, a Rochester native, and Elana Meyers laughed off smashing their bobsled into a wall a few days ago, knowing this wasn’t the time to let anything get in their way of winning an Olympic medal.
The gold is right in front of them now.
And for Williams, a special place in Olympic history is within reach.
Williams, a former sprint champion who decided to give bobsled a whirl six months ago, and Meyers lead at the halfway point of women’s Olympic bobsled, which has turned into a three-team race with two of them decked out in red, white and blue.
With Williams using her world-class speed to propel her teammate off the starting line, Meyers made two trips down the Sanki Sliding Center track in 1 minute, 54.89 seconds Tuesday to open a 0.23-second lead over Canada’s Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, trying to win their second straight title after getting gold in Vancouver.
USA-2’s Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans are in third, 0.56 back of their teammates, who know anything can happen in today’s final two heats.
“It feels pretty good but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Meyers, who won bronze in Vancouver pushing for Erin Pac. “Kaillie’s a great driver. Jamie’s driving great as well. It’s not over.”
Williams, a two-time sprint medalist in the Summer Olympics, is attempting to join Eddie Eagan as the only athletes to win gold medals in different sports in both the Winter and Summer Games. It wasn’t long ago that Williams made her first harrowing ride down an icy mountain track, unsure if she wanted to stick with a sport so foreign from the one she’d known.
She’s feeling at home now.
“Anytime I step on any track, ice track, regular track, any kind of track, my goal is to win,” she said. “So I’m not surprised at all. We prepared well, we did everything we’re supposed to do and we know we’re as good as the rest of the field.”
Meyers, of Douglasville, Ga., and Williams, got off to a shaky start in their first days on the mountain. Meyers crashed her BMW-built sled on their initial training run, and Williams was late applying the brakes the following day and the pair blasted into a wall near the finish, damaging the front end of the carbon-fibered sliding machine.
However, the incident didn’t crack their relationship.
“The chemistry’s been building the whole time, but I think after we wrecked the sled the other day, that’s when it was solidified,” Meyers said.
Williams said she was grateful for her driver’s patience.
“That was a bonding moment,” Williams said. “She didn’t yell at all. She was emotional about the sled but she didn’t freak. ‘E’ handled it like a pro.”
While one American track star is nearing a medal, the more celebrated one is further away.
This time, Lolo Jones isn’t close.
The former hurdler is in 11th with teammate Jazmine Fenlator in USA-3, 1.84 seconds behind Meyers and Williams and 1.28 seconds out of third.
It’s hardly where Jones had hoped to be for after switching to bobsled to pursue her dream of winning a medal after ballyhooed failures on the Olympic track in Beijing and London.
She’s on an icy one at these games, and to this point, it’s been as slippery as the dry ones she once ran in the summer.
“Everything went as expected,” Jones said. “We knew we would have to fight. We knew it would be four tough runs.”
Jones hasn’t given up, and she’s putting on a brave front despite knowing her medal chances are minuscule.
“I’m just going to take it day by day, for sure,” she said.
So far, this competition has been no different than most during this past World Cup season, with Meyers and Humphries duking it out for first.
Humphries edged Meyers for the overall championship by one point. But the stakes are much higher in Sochi, and although the two are close friends after training and rooming together last summer, Meyers and Humphries are going hard for gold.
“Heather and I had a plan coming in,” Humphries said. “We don’t really look at times. I don’t even know how big that gap is and I don’t care to know. We just stick to us.”
Humphries and Moyse were first on the track Tuesday and made a clean trip, finishing in 57.39 seconds. But the pair barely had time to acknowledge they had set a track record when Meyers and Williams lowered it.
USA-1’s first heat wasn’t pretty, but it was fast: a 57.26-second descent that moved them ahead of the Canadians. The Americans stretched their lead by one-tenth of a second on their second run.
Greubel, of Newtown, and Evans, of Chicago, can’t be overlooked. The pair had two speedy trips down the course, covered and unaffected by daylong downpours in this new ski resort area northeast of Sochi.
The U.S. team arrived in Russia early to get acclimated to their surroundings and “The Wolfpack,” as they call themselves, brought some drama with them.
Jones’ selection over Katie Eberling and Emily Azevedo was criticized by some who believed coaches were influenced by the track star’s celebrity. Regardless, Jones got the nod, but was then was paired with Fenlator in USA-3, the weakest of the sleek American sleds.
Williams’ pairing with Meyers in USA-1 wasn’t without controversy and risk. The two only raced once together in a World Cup event, and there was some worry that Williams’ inexperience could be a problem. But other than not braking soon enough before their crash in practice, she’s been perfect.
The track star, two runs from being an Olympic bobsled champion.
“I never would have thought I’d be here six months ago,” she said. “And here I am.”