U.S. women's bobsled team is better than ever, thanks to recruiting
PARK CITY — Katie Eberling read the Facebook message from Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers and didn't believe it could be real.
The message explained who the former college softball player was and how she became an Olympian in the sport of bobsled. And then she asked the college volleyball player to consider doing the same.
"At first I thought it was a joke," said Eberling, who helped rookie driver Jamie Greubel finish in fourth place (1:39.88) at the FIBT women's bobsled World Cup at Utah Olympic Park Friday night. "And then, you know, every athlete dreams of being an Olympian, so I think, with that goal in mind, I knew I would regret it later if I didn't give it a try. I went down the hill, one thing led to another, and I'm here now traveling the world."
Eberling, who teamed with Meyers in winning a bronze at last year's World Championships, isn't the only athlete Meyers has been key in recruiting to the U.S. bobsled program.
Meyers, who had a disappointing eighth place (1:40.14) finish Friday, said she used "any means necessary" to try and lure talented athletes onto the icy track — including one of the 2012 Summer Games' most famous athletes — Lolo Jones.
"I just talked to Lolo at a media event," said Meyers. "She thought I was crazy. People usually think I'm joking. They think I'm crazy, and they don't believe me. But it's critical for us to have the fastest starts."
The third U.S. team — Jazmine Fenlator and Emily Azevedo — finished fifth just .11 behind their teammates Greubel and Eberling. The U.S. has so many talented push athletes that coaches are pairing different drivers with different push athletes each race as they search for the best combinations. Last week, the U.S. finished second and third with two push athletes who didn't even compete Friday — Jones (who paired with Greubel) and Tianna Madison (who paired with Meyers).
Meyers said she wouldn't have even finished in eighth place Friday without the effort of her brakeman, Aja Evans. Evans is a former track athlete who, with Meyers, broke the track record for fastest start with a 5.10 second push time. Evans broke the track record at Lake Placid when she pushed for Greubel during team selection races.
"I'm very excited," she said. "I couldn't ask for a better start."
She said her first ride in a bobsled was difficult to describe.
"I still can't figure out how to define it," she said laughing. "It was just awkward. It's a one of a kind experience, so I can't really compare it to anything."
Meyers' efforts have resulted in the U.S. being one of the quickest, deepest teams, even if most of them are new to the sport.
"This is the fastest team we've ever had," Meyers said. "This is definitely the deepest team we've ever had. We even have girls on Europa Cup tearing it up. We're definitely deep."
She's had to endure a lot of rejection for the few success stories.
"I got a lot of nos," she said, laughing. "I probably contacted over 100 athletes a year, and I got a lot of nos. But the ones we got, the ones I was able to talk into it turned out to be jewels."
The result of the recruiting effort is something other teams are noticing. Canadian Kaillie Humphries who won Friday's event with a combined time of 1:39.49 said recruiting athletes from other sports only improves women's bobsled.
"I think it's great for the sport of bobsleigh," said Humphries. "The more people we can get out, especially top track girls such as Tianna (Madison), Lolo Jones and Aja. Aja and Elana just killed it today; it made all of us in the start house a little bit scared."
"She probably sent out a million emails and only got a few people who were crazy enough to respond," said Eberling. "I did not know a lot about it. I never saw myself standing here right now. But I'm absolutely thrilled to be here and ready to go."
She's not worried about the effort to continually recruit top athletes from other sports.
"Competition always breeds success," she said. "It's definitely a tense environment, and you have to really stay on your toes and just keep pushing through. And try and have fun. It's supposed to be fun."
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