Elana Meyers of US is in chase at bobsled worlds
LAKE PLACID, N.Y.—Brian Shimer figures it's time to give Elana Meyers a nickname.
"Maybe prime time or something," said Shimer, coach of the U.S. men's bobsled team. "When it's game day, she shows up."
It was game day on Friday at Mount Van Hoevenberg, and Meyers showed up big-time. Meyers and brakewoman Katie Eberling had the second-fastest time on the first run of the women's competition at the bobsled world championships -- ahead of every one of the 17 sleds in the race except the shiny white one of Canadian Olympic champion Kaillie Humphries.
A few slipups on the second and final heat of the day relegated Meyers to third heading into Saturday night's final two runs, a daunting half-second behind Humphries but in medal contention, just 0.09 seconds behind the German team of Sandra Kiriasis and Petra Lammert.
No surprise Meyers was beaming at the finish line.
"It's pretty awesome to be in the medal hunt and looking to move up. I knew I had a good chance," said Meyers, in just her second year as a driver. "We're talking about people who have been driving for I don't even know how long, so to be in the mix is pretty exciting."
Meyers laid down a staunch first run of 57.22 seconds over the tricky and treacherous 20-curve track, a solid second behind the pace-setting time of 57.10 by Humphries. Meyers and Eberling had the fastest two starts on a relatively mild day in the Adirondack Mountains -- 5.51 seconds and 5.54 seconds, not far off the track record of 5.46 Meyers set as a brakewoman with Jamia Jackson in 2009.
A bunch of minor mistakes on her second run cost Meyers valuable time in the race for the gold. She trailed Humphries by 0.12 after the first heat.
"I was sloppy -- late here, early there, a little flop here," said Meyers, who finished 12th on the World Cup circuit, skipping three of eight races to train for worlds here and next year's competition at St. Moritz, Switzerland. "That really killed my huge advantage at the start. I'm hoping to clean up the top of the track and get some more velocity."
Eberling, in her first season on the team, didn't try to mask her glee, either.
"It's really exciting," she said. "You have to keep your cool, keep level-headed. It's the same as any other race."
World Cup champion Cathleen Martini and brakewoman Janine Tischer of Germany were in fourth, 0.23 behind Meyers but only 0.03 ahead of Helen Upperton and Shelly-Ann Brown of Canada. Jazmine Fenlator and Ingrid Marcum of the United States were in ninth, 1.16 seconds behind the leaders. Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo were 12th in USA-2, 1.47 behind.
Humphries set a blistering pace on her second run, finishing in 57.07 seconds on an overcast day with temperatures in the mid-30s. That wasn't far off the track record of 56.90 set by Kiriasis in 2010 and put her solidly in the driver's seat for the gold.
"It's still about consistency. Anything can happen in this race," said Humphries, who won the last two races of the World Cup season, at Whistler and Calgary. "Tomorrow is a whole new day. We'll see. As long as we keep doing what we're doing, everything will fall into place."
Despite her standing after Day 1, Fenlator considered her performance a triumph because her mother, a stroke victim with heart problems and other health issues, was there to watch.
"I think it's pretty cool to always be the underdog and chip away on your way up," said Fenlator, a former Rider University track standout who had to train in Lake Placid in the fall knowing that her mom was often sleeping in a car after her New Jersey home was heavily damaged by Hurricane Irene. "There's no expectations and that alleviates some of the pressure. If you're always No. 1, people expect No. 1. I'm happy to be the underdog, but at the same time hopefully in the years leading to Sochi I can be No. 1."
The first two heats of the men's two-man competition are Saturday morning. Shimer was confident that drivers Steven Holcomb, the Olympic champion in four-man at Whistler, and John Napier and rookie Nick Cunningham would represent the United States well, even though Holcomb will be piloting a new sled he's never raced.
"We've had a lots of ups and downs," Shimer said. "We feel we've fallen off the pace a little bit. Coming in here, we're trying some new things and taking a little bit of a gamble. If everything goes right -- which it seldom does in bobsled -- it's going to be a four-heat race, and if anybody can pull it off, it's Holcomb. He's just a talented guy."