KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Jamie Greubel and Elana Meyers spent much of the past four years living and training in Lake Placid to prepare for less than four minutes of actual racing.
Those minutes were spread out over two days, Tuesday and Wednesday's womens' bobsled competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Although neither United States driver was able to top the field, their efforts paid off in a big way.
Teaming up with push athlete Lauryn Williams, Meyers drove to the silver medal, and Greubel claimed the bronze with Aja Evans on the brakes.
USA 2 driver Jamie Greubel and push athlete Aja Evans begin to celebrate while heading up the finish ramp at the end of their fourth run after they clinched the Olympic bronze medal in Wednesday’s women’s bobsled race.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Meyers and Williams set new track and push records the first run they put down in the USA 1 sled to grab the early lead Tuesday. Their advantage held up until the final run Wednesday, when Canada's Kaillie Humphries rallied to drive to her second straight Olympic gold, edging out Meyers by a mere tenth of a second.
Meanwhile, Greubel, who was competing in her first Olympics, took a solid hold on the bronze medal position on her opening run and was never challenged in her quest for Olympic glory.
"I think any time you can win an Olympic medal, it's a huge accomplishment," Meyers said. "You got to walk away happy: gold, silver or bronze. You put it all on the line, you went out there and fought for your country, so when you win a medal, you can't help but be happy."
By taking the silver, Meyers became the first athlete to win an Olympic women's bobsled medal as both a driver and brakeman. She earned a bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games as a push athlete for Erin Pac.
The biggest drama in the four-heat competition was no doubt the battle for first place between Meyers and Humphries. Meyers and Williams had the four quickest start times in the race, including two push records of 5.12 seconds, and on Tuesday they had the fastest runs in both heats. They established a new track record on their first trip of 57.26 seconds, and followed with a 57.63 result the next time for a 1:54.99 two-heat total to lead Humphries by .23 seconds.
But Humphries, who teamed up with her Vancouver gold medal partner Heather Moyse, ate up that deficit with the two fastest runs Wednesday. The Canadians were .11 behind Meyers and Williams heading into the final run, and after finishing their competition as the next-to-last sled to go down the track, they watched on the monitor at the finish deck as Meyers failed to keep her lead.
Humphries and Meyers went back and forth all season as the top two drivers on the World Cup tour, with the Canadian edging out the American by a single point in the final rankings. So it was fitting that Humphries' margin of Olympic victory was also by a sliver. She finished the race with a 3:50.61 total.
"Oh, it bothers me," Humphries said of her narrow win at Wednesday's post race press conference featuring the medal-winning drivers and push athletes. "I wish it could be greater in all fairness, but that's just a testament to the athletes here, the athletes we have sitting here right now. Elana and I went into the season knowing it was going to be a challenge between us, so we ended up kind of joining forces.
"We have this thing called a 'Battle Royale' between her and I," Humphries added. "We ended up kind of becoming a team. We have the same strength coach. In order to be the best, you have to be pushed by the best."
Meyers had the added challenge of having to drive a rebuilt sled in the race. It had been damaged during training earlier in the week when she drove it into the short wall on the finish ramp where sleds exit the track.
"The whole front end was smashed up, the steering didn't work," Meyers said. "I think whenever you are so close to gold and can taste it, there's always a little bit of disappointment. But I'm not so much disappointed for myself, but I'm disappointed for all the people who worked so hard to try to win this gold. The mechanics rebuilt a sled for me. I mean overnight they rebuilt this sled so I could race. I really wanted to win this gold medal for them, so I am disappointed in that, but I'm am so happy that Lauryn pushed me so well that we were able to walk away with a silver."
Williams became just the fifth athlete in Olympic history to medal in both the winter and summer games. The 30-year-old native of Rochester, Pa. won a gold medal for the U.S. in the 4x100 relay at the 2012 London Olympics and also a silver in the 100 meters at the Athens 2004 Summer Games. She retired from track last year and hopped into her first bobsled just six months ago.
"She's an amazing athlete. She's one of the fastest people on this planet, and it doesn't matter what you put in front of her, obviously," Meyers said of her partner. "She's done such an incredible job. She held us together after everything that's happened this week, after everything that's happened this Olympics. She's the reason why we have this medal."
The women's field included 19 sleds from 13 different nations. Jazmine Fenlator drove USA 3 in the race. With Lolo Jones, also a winter and summer Olympian, pushing the sled, Fenlator slid to an 11th-place finish driving in her first Olympics. Their total time was 3:53.97, which was 3.36 seconds off the winning total posted by Humphries and Moyse.
Greubel and Evans were briefly in contention for a higher finish after they were just .19 behind their teammates following the first run. But the gap grew as the race progressed and they finished third, which was just where Greubel stood in the World Cup standings at season's end. As the third-to-last pair to go in the final heat, they knew at least the bronze was theirs at the end of the run. They finished with a 3:51.61 total, which was one minute off the winning pace and .66 ahead of the fourth-place sled from the Netherlands driven by Esme Kamphuis with Judith Vis on the brakes.
Germany 1, driven by Sandra Kiriasis, the 2006 Torino Olympics gold medalist, rounded out the top five. Franziska Fritz was the push athlete on that sled.
"You always go out and fight for everything you have," Greubel said. "We always had the intention of competing to the best of our abilities and hoping to move up. We're very grateful for having won the bronze medal.
"It was definitely a sigh of relief just to come across the finish line and see that No. 1, and know that we've dreamed about it, and hoped for it, and wished for it, and worked so hard for it and then finally we actually achieved it."