Meyers Taylor, Humphries on verge of history

December, 18, 2014
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Kaillie Humphries, Elana Meyers TaylorJeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press/AP Images; Mike Groll/AP ImagesKaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor are set to compete in four-man bobsled this weekend in Calgary.
Katharin Dewey showed Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries the possibilities, decades before either was born.

Dewey started bobsledding in the mid-1930s, a woman competing against men before new safety rules prevented that from happening. It probably was no coincidence those rules were amended soon after Dewey outdrove all-male sleds at Lake Placid, New York for the national championship in 1940.

Her torch is now passed.

Meyers Taylor and Humphries will make history at Calgary, Alberta on Saturday, when they compete against men on bobsledding's top circuit, the World Cup tour. Meyers Taylor will drive a sled for the U.S. with three men along for the ride. Humphries will do the same for Canada.

[+] EnlargeElana Meyers
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty ImagesThis is the first World Cup season that bobsled's international governing body has defined what was called four-man bobsledding as gender neutral.
"This is my passion," said Humphries, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in women's bobsledding, where only two are in a sled. "It's what I love to do. I do this to be the best I can be. I don't do it to prove anything to anybody."

Still, that's exactly what will happen this weekend.

Neither Meyers Taylor nor Humphries is expected to win any four-person race this season. That's not an indictment of their skill; they're considered the best two women's drivers in the world, strong, speedy, explosive and powerful, the perfect mix for bobsledding. But since both will be driving the No. 3 sleds for their respective countries, they won't have the best equipment or pushers.

They'll get leftovers.

"The biggest thing is just proving that women can drive four-man sleds," Meyers Taylor said. "It's baffling to me that it's not just assumed. We're driving a sled. We do that. I don't know why it's such a big deal."

She knows exactly why it's a big deal.

This is the first season that bobsled's international governing body has defined what was called four-man bobsledding as gender neutral. Officially, the sport is still classified as four-man, though some are now calling it four-person in deference to Meyers Taylor and Humphries being part of the tour.

Rules allowing the coed sled were changed this fall, so it was a mad scramble for Humphries and Meyers Taylor -- the top two drivers, respectively, in both the women's World Cup standings and in the women's race at the Sochi Olympics last winter -- just to qualify for World Cup. To be certified for the top series, they needed to compete in five races on three tracks in a two-year span.

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Reaction: Lolo Jones on 'DWTS' cast

September, 4, 2014
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Hurdler, bobsledder ... ballroom dancer? Yes, Lolo Jones is taking on another new role, as the three-time Olympian will be a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars."

Here is some reaction to Thursday's announcement:

Jamaica keeps bobsled faith

February, 21, 2014
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SOCHI, Russia -- Jamaica will not compete in the four-man bobsled this weekend but it was represented in the two-man competition here. And team president Chris Stokes says the country not only will be back in 2018, it could be on the podium.

“Within the next four years, I expect to have an athlete on World Cup podium and maybe an Olympic medal in four to eight years,’’ he said. “And I mean that sincerely.’’

[+] EnlargeJAM-1 sled
AP Photo/Michael SohnThe Jamaican bobsled team gained fame from the movie "Cool Runnings."
Stokes might be sincere but that would be an amazing accomplishment, even if Usain Bolt was pulling the sled as well. Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon finished last in the two-man this week.

Stokes was on the original 1988 Jamaican team that inspired the movie, “Cool Runnings,’’ and turned the squad into a world-wide cultural phenomenon. Which is interesting considering that Jamaica is not the only warm-weather country competing in the sport.

“People talk about Jamaica being this warm-weather country in the Caribbean. But when I entered the sport in 1988, I came and saw warm weather countries,’’ Stokes said. “I saw Mexico, I saw Puerto Rico. I saw the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the brand Jamaica is so strong that it represented something else and people took to it.

“I think it’s important for Olympics to be world wide. When our sprinters go to the Summer Olympics, we don’t say, ‘Why is this Swedish guy or this Austrian guy here to run a 10.5 in the 100?’ It’s the Olympics, it’s participation. The appeal of the Winter Olympics is going to depend on its appeal globally, not just for cold weather countries. And we’re working very hard on that.’’

Jamaica competed in the Olympics from 1988 to 2002 but failed to qualify in 2006 and 2010. Much of that was due to a lack of funding in a sport that is very, very expensive. Even when it qualified for these Games, it still needed to raise money in a hurry to cover the expenses. And it did so, receiving enough money within mere days.

“Funding was the hardest thing,’’ Watts said. “In the end, we got funding from our friends and fans. I’m so happy they made it possible. We were able to show the world, that Jamaica is still alive.’’

When it comes to bobsled, however, Jamaica has more support and popularity beyond the island than on it.

“Our coverage is much greater overseas than in Jamaica,’’ Stoke said. “It is a business problem in Jamaica. I’ve been a little perplexed on this. I’ve been talking to a lot of companies about sponsoring this and they say, 'How do we connect our product to people who watch the team?' ’’

Stokes pointed to the team fundraising campaign that netted more than $30,000 in two days and eventually more than $100,000 from people in every U.S. state and 52 countries as evidence that this “should be an easy problem to solve.”

“They need to have more confidence we’re here and here to stay and are serious athletes,’’ he said. “I’m confident we will have a lot more stable, long-term funding rather than just trying to save the day from week to week.’’

Yes, even Captain Kirk is weighing in on Sochi

February, 9, 2014
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SOCHI, Russia -- Sochi: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the bobsled USA-1.

If the American bobsled team finds itself in a jam at the Sochi Games, it appears they can call on Capt. James Tiberius Kirk to get them out of it.

William Shatner is an avid Olympic fan, and he's been tweeting out congratulatory messages to the medal winners this weekend. But he seems to have particular interest in the USA bobsled team, especially after seeing a picture circulate of McKinney, Texas, native Johnny Quinn breaking through a bathroom door after he was locked in.

Sochi Olympics: A look at the venues

January, 14, 2014
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While Sochi organizers have promised snow will be on the ground despite warm temps in the coastal town, one thing we can say for sure: The venues for the 2014 Winter Olympics will be there.

Here's a look at some of the locales you'll see next month:

Shayba Arena

The Shayba Arena will host ice hockey games and is in close proximity to other ice skating venues. Capacity: 7,000.

Shayba ArenaAP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

Fisht Olympic Stadium

The Olympic Stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies, and most medal ceremonies. Capacity: 40,000.

FishtMikhail Mordasov/AFP/Getty Images

'Ice Cube' Curling Center

You guessed it -- curling competitions will be held here. The venue is in the center of the "Coastal Cluster," where all of the ice-based venues are located. Capacity: 3,000.

Ice cube curling center AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

Bolshoy Ice Dome

The ice hockey venue is said to be modeled after a "frozen water drop," but spectators may think it resembles a disco dance floor when they see the roof light up in multiple colors at night. Capacity: 12,000.

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Vonetta Flowers became the first African-American bobsledder from any country to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics when she and Jill Bakken topped the podium at the 2002 Salt Lake Games. And the current U.S. women's bobsled team diversity reflects her legacy.

"It's pretty cool we're talking about how diverse the team is," 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers said recently while training at the test event for the 2014 Games outside Sochi. "We all started from Flowers. That's when most women started hearing about it, from Vonetta, with all the hype centered around her incredible accomplishment. Starting out there and following in her footsteps is pretty cool."

The 2012-13 World Cup team has seven black athletes: drivers Meyers and Jazmine Fenlator, plus brakemen Tianna Madison Bartoletta (a London 2012 gold medalist in the 4x100), Lolo Jones (a two-time Olympic hurdler), Aja Evans, Cherrelle Garrett and Maureen Ajoku. Driver Jamie Greubel and brakemen Katie Eberling and Emily Azevedo are white. (There are also two African-Americans on the men's bobsled team.)

"It really was just a matter of looking for the best athletes," Meyers said. "It wasn't something we really even thought about until the media started asking about us about it. As a driver, I'm just trying to get the fastest pusher possible because I know that's going to put me in the best possible position to get a medal.

"It doesn't matter where you come from; there's no concern whether we're diverse or not -- we're just going for the fastest pushers possible."

Meyers played a big part in the recruiting process. She suggested that Jones give bobsled a try several years ago and said she recruited others by sending out Facebook messages to as many athletes as she could find on the National Strength and Conditioning Association's list of All-Americans.

One of those who responded to the Facebook message was Eberling, a former volleyball player who was student-teaching. "It was an unusual way to get into a sport," Eberling said. "The first time I read it, I thought, 'This has got to be a joke.' Then I called my mom and read it to her and we laughed about it, but the more I read through it, and then actually talked to Elana, that's when I took it more seriously and realized this was a huge opportunity."

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Steven Holcomb: 'There is always hope'

December, 18, 2012
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Five years ago, bobsled driver Steven Holcomb was deeply depressed. His U.S. four-man bobsled team was peaking and had a strong chance to win the first American gold medal in the event since 1948 at the 2010 Olympics. But despite devoting a decade of his life to that goal, Holcomb could not focus on it. He held a dark secret not even his teammates or coach knew.

He was going blind.

"I was losing my vision quite rapidly," Holcomb recalled in a phone interview. "I was realizing what my life was about to become. I was at the peak of my career and it was all about to come crashing down. My vision became so bad it was a safety issue. I was withdrawn, I wouldn't come out of my room.

[+] EnlargeSteven Holcomb
Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesSteven Holcomb was part of the four-man bobsled team that won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"My coach [Brian Shimer] said, 'These guys are working their butts off for you, and you're just going through the motions.' I told him, 'I'm going blind, I'm going to have to quit.'"

Holcomb had keratoconus, a disease that leaves one out of every four victims blind without a cornea transplant. Holcomb's vision had already declined to 20-600 -- without the strongest corrective lenses, he could not recognize a person sitting across the table. He could get the transplant, but that would end his career due to the constant jarring that comes with driving a bobsled.

But as Holcomb writes in his new book, "But Now I See," he was able to continue his career. After a dozen eye specialists told Holcomb that a cornea transplant was his only hope, Dr. Boxer Wachler provided hope in a revolutionary treatment called C3-R that did not require invasive procedure. The treatment worked so well that not only did Holcomb continue his bobsledding career and win a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics, but the procedure is now known as the Holcomb C3-R, just as ulnar collateral ligament replacement is known as Tommy John surgery.

"Keratoconus is a lot more common than I ever realized going in," Holcomb said. "I thought I had some crazy rare disease. ... I've met so many people who have it. Two other people on the team have it and one had the same procedure. It's very common and this procedure stops it and is a cure.

"It's kind of one of the reasons for putting the book out. I wanted people to know there is a solution. It's not covered by insurance so people don't know about it -- it's not as widespread as it should be."

Blindness wasn't the only issue for Holcomb. He also suffered from depression, but was able to overcome that, as well. It wasn't easy, but he did it.

"There is always hope. Do not give up," he said. "There is always hope and always help. I kept everything a secret. I had depression and I kept it a secret and never let anyone know. When I did, that was when my life changed and it took off from there."

Holcomb is looking for more gold in Sochi at the 2014 Olympics, and he has a good chance. His team recently returned to Whistler, site of their 2010 gold, and won a World Cup race there.

"I would say that's a pretty decent place to hang out," Holcomb said of Whistler. "I love that track for obvious reasons. Winning a gold medal there brings up its value, and there is just a lot of beautiful scenery there."

And now he can see it all.


Zach Lund takes break from skeleton

November, 12, 2010
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Skeleton athlete Zach Lund is taking a break from the sport but still hopes to compete in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, USA Bobsled and Skeleton announced Friday.

"I still hope to compete in the next Games," Lund said in a statement. "If I'm going to have any chance of doing that I need a break both mentally and physically. Once I started sliding this season, I realized I needed to take at least a year off."

Lund cited spending more time with his wife and daughter and a lack of passion as his reasons for taking the leave of absence.

"Maybe I'll get a second wind, maybe I won't," Lund said. "I see guys like Matt Antoine and John Daly who are hungry and passionate, and they really want it. Here I am on the opposite side of the spectrum, and that's not a good situation. I thought that the pressure would be off my shoulders this season and I could relax and enjoy sliding again, but I struggled doing that."

Lund made his first Olympic appearance in Vancouver, finishing in fifth place overall in the skeleton race.

In 2002, he suffered a debilitating car accident after being rear-ended and was removed from the Olympics.

In 2006, Lund was the top-ranked skeleton athlete in the world. He was notified an hour before the opening ceremonies that he was removed from the U.S. Olympic team for testing positive for Propecia, the hair restoration drug. The International Olympic Committee removed Propecia from the banned substance list in 2007.

"Sometimes I think about what I missed out on in 2006, and as much as I've been able to cope with it, it still gets me deep down inside," Lund said. "It took the passion and drive out of me and was a huge blow to my career."