LAKE PLACID - Three different drivers captured medals for the United States women's bobsled teams at the last three Olympic Winter Games.
Those pilots have all since retired, and that means if the American women are to keep their Olympic medal streak going at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, the task will fall on a group of up-and-coming drivers who are taking over the helm of the U.S. Team.
The U.S. will be sending three sleds into action when the 2012 FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships begin Friday in Lake Placid with the first two runs of the women's bobsled competition. 2010 Vancouver Olympian Bree Schaaf is the most veteran pilot for the American women. Schaaf drove to a fifth-place finish in her Olympic debut, and this week, she will be joined by two relative newcomers to the driver's seat in Elana Meyers and Jazmine Fenlator.
Elana Meyers of the United States pilots her sled on Mount Van Hoevenberg’s track during a training run Wednesday afternoon in Lake Placid. After winning an Olympic bronze medal as a push athlete at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Meyers has stepped up into the driver’s seat.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Meyers, a 27-year-old who hails from Georgia, won an Olympic bronze medal in 2010 as a push athlete for Erin Pac, and is in her second season driving on the World Cup level. Meanwhile, Fenlator, a 26-year-old New Jersey native, is a rookie driver on the World Cup circuit and said she is excited to be sliding in her first World Championships.
Along with Schaaf, the American pair may not be medal favorites in Lake Placid this weekend, but they also realize the event is another step in the progression it takes to reach the Olympic podium.
"I was told it takes three seasons to find out if you are going to be among that elite group of drivers, and I'm in my second year," Meyers said Wednesday afternoon following her two training runs on Mount Van Hoevenberg's mile-long track. "Once you have an Olympic medal as a brakeman, that's about as far as you can go in this sport unless you are a driver.
"I love bobsledding. It's exciting, it's exhilarating and it's fun and it's something I want to keep doing," Meyers continued. "I'm a person who likes to have control of my own destiny, and that's why I'm in the driver's seat."
The Americans will be competing against some of the most experienced and successful athletes in the history of the sport, including a host of medalists going back to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, where women's bobsled made its Olympic debut.
Heading into this weekend, the next generation of American drivers only have one World Cup medal between them - a bronze Meyers captured in December in Igls, Austria. But competing on their home track has the U.S. looking for success.
"I'm super excited about being in the World Championships for the first time, especially since my first one is on my home track," Fenlator said. "As a first-year World Cup driver, I'm just looking for more experience every day. I learned five new tracks in Europe this season and it's great to be finishing the year at home. United States bobsledders have a history of success here in Lake Placid.
"We going up against the best of the best," Fenlator added. "This is one of my favorite tracks, and I'm excited to see how I will stack up against the world."
The women's competition will open with two runs Friday and conclude with two more Saturday evening. With the likes of Olympic champions Kaillie Humphries of Canada and Sandra Kirasis of Germany, and her teammate Cathleen Martini, the defending world champion, reaching the podium will obviously be a tough task for the U.S. women.
"I'm so competitive, so it is frustrating when I don't medal," Meyers said. "But at the same time, I realize that I have to just stand back and look at the overall picture. There's so much experience out there, and it takes years to gain that experience. As a driver, I'm just picking up new things every day to get to the place where I want to be."
"There's a whole lot of Olympic champions in this field, so we're not going to go into the race with expectations that are too high," head U.S. women's bobsled coach Todd Hays said. "It's quite a field of veterans. Bree has a little experience and Jasmine and Elana are essentially rookies, but at the same time, our three drivers are really, really competitive.
"The goal for each of our sleds is coming up with four competitive trips," Hays added. "If we can do that, I have no doubt that we can vie for medals. That would be great."