LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) – The record books and the result sheets and the photos from the medal podium all make it very clear. Officially, U.S. bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor won a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics.
She has a different perspective.
“I lost gold,” she said. “For sure.”
That has been part of the burden that Meyers Taylor has carried around for the last four years, a quadrennial that has proven far more difficult than she would have wanted. She struggled with a concussion and confidence problems, and was personally devastated like so many other U.S. sliders were last year by the death of Steven Holcomb – her close friend and a mentor in many respects.
Yet here she is, back for another Olympics, still very much a contender to win the biggest race in her sport. A bronze medalist as a brakeman in 2010, a silver medalist in her Olympic driving debut in 2014, the 33-year-old Meyers Taylor is heading to the Pyeongchang Games with the simple goal of winning the elusive gold medal she needs for the complete set.
“I know I’m a better driver now than I was four years ago,” Meyers Taylor said. “For me, it’s always been about continually challenging myself and continually figuring out how to go down the hill faster. I’ve gotten to the point where it’s not as much about gold-silver-bronze – although I want that gold medal more than anything I’ve ever wanted – but I want to put together four runs that I can walk away and be proud of.”
Therein lies the story from Sochi.
There are four runs in an Olympic bobsled race, and Meyers Taylor was the leader after the first, second and third heats at the Sochi Games. Gold looked certain to be hers, as long as she made it down the track clean in the final heat.
And that didn’t happen.
She smacked the right wall very hard around the midpoint of the final run, costing her tons of speed. Meyers Taylor and brakeman Lauryn Williams wound up finishing one-tenth of a second behind Canada’s Kaillie Humphries, who won gold for the second straight Olympics.
“Made a mistake,” Meyers Taylor said. “Made a couple mistakes that cost us.”
She’s recovered nicely. Sliding sports like bobsled rarely find themselves in the spotlight, but Meyers Taylor has become a bit of a celebrity endorser in the past year. She struck deals with Bridgestone, Comcast, Coca-Cola, 24 Hour Fitness and others going into these Olympics, which is fairly remarkable since sliders often toil in anonymity.
It gets even more impressive when considering that her Pyeongchang quest seemed in serious trouble after it took her nearly a full year to recover from a January 2015 concussion. That’s no longer a concern.
“We all know what Elana is capable of doing,” USA Bobsled and Skeleton CEO Darrin Steele said.
Another massive jolt that left her feeling seriously shaken came last spring, when Holcomb was found dead in his room at the Olympic Training Center where so many U.S. bobsledders live and train.
They were very close friends. He was the longtime leader of the team and a gold-medal-winning driver. She is the most accomplished women’s pilot on the squad. Holcomb looked at Meyers Taylor as a peer, offered his advice at times, sought her advice other times.
He will be very much in mind when she gets to Korea.
“I know he’s helped prepare me for this,” Meyers Taylor said.
Meyers Taylor finished second in the World Cup standings this season, behind only Humphries. She contended almost every weekend, medaling seven times in the eight races, but had just one win – a dropoff after prevailing 12 times in 20 starts over the previous three years.
That victory this season came in a race where she was pushed by Lolo Jones, who wasn’t picked for the Olympic team even though she and Meyers Taylor had won medals in their last seven World Cup starts together. Meyers Taylor is going to Pyeongchang with Olympic rookie Lauren Gibbs as her brakeman, and they showed their potential with a start record this past weekend in the World Cup season finale at Koenigssee, Germany.
“It showed what we are capable of, and I think that we have even more in the tank,” Meyers Taylor said. “Lauren did a great job and I’m really excited about our potential at the start. We don’t have that many pushes together, so I think it’s definitely a good sign. I’m excited to see what we can do at the games.”