Rochester native Williams finishes atop bobsled qualifiers in Sochi
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Lauryn Williams is set to slide into Olympic history.
The little racer from Rochester, Beaver County, provided the decisive push as brakeman, and driver Elana Meyers did the rest as USA-1 took the first two heats of the women's bobsled Tuesday at Sanki Sliding Center. Their cumulative time of 1 minute, 54.89 seconds was 0.23 seconds ahead of the pack, and if they can hold the lead through two more heats Wednesday — all four heats count evenly — they'll have gold.
Williams would become only the second athlete in history to win gold in the Summer and Winter Games, adding to her gold in the 4x100 track relay in London two years ago.
The other athlete with golds in the Summer and Winter Games was American Eddie Eagan, who won in boxing in 1920, then four-man bobsled in 1932.
Williams retired as a sprinter last year and tried the bobsled just five months ago.
“I can't even believe this right now,” Williams said, giggling through the steady rain after the race. “This is all still like a dream.”
The Canada-1 team of Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse is second at 1:55:12, and the USA-2 team of Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans is third at 1:55:45. The gap behind the top three is 0.49 seconds, large in bobsled, a powerful indicator that the current field likely will be the medalists.
“It feels pretty good, but we've got a lot of work to do,” said Meyers, 29, of San Diego. “It's not over. It's a battle. We're going to get some food, get some sleep, rest up and be ready to go.”
The rain hurt some times, but Meyers and Williams set a track record of 57.26 seconds in the first heat, then followed with a 57.63.
Within that, Williams' first-heat start was a track-record 5.13 seconds, her next start topping that at 5.12. No other start on the day was within 0.18 seconds of the latter.
“I did make some mistakes on the track,” Meyers said, “but I was allowed to because Lauryn … she's a killer back there. I can't be happier with how she performed.”
“Honestly, I didn't notice if it was raining, snowing, sun shining,” Williams said. “I'm at my first Winter Olympics, and I would have just been running behind ‘E' and trying to jump in that sled. It's funny, but all day long I was nervous. But when I got to that line, I was ready to jump out of my skin. That's when I had a good feeling.”
Meyers and Williams had one competitive race together before arriving in Sochi, but U.S. bobsled coach Todd Hays went with those two as a pair, risking his best driver in the process. When Meyers and Williams crashed Saturday during a test run — Williams was too late with the brake after the race, and the sled hit a wall hard enough to sustain damage — it looked like even more of a gamble.
But the two have become good friends off the track in a short time, and Williams' effervescent personality appears to have had a calming effect on the businesslike Meyers as she'll concede.
“We're obviously not talking in the sled, but most of our communication is at the top of the track when we're just trying to get loose,” Meyers said. “Lauryn's such a positive person, so great for me.”
When asked if there was a specific moment when they felt chemistry coming, both laughed and cited something unexpected.
“Yeah, when we wrecked the sled,” Meyers said.
“Bonding moment!” Williams clarified playfully. “She didn't freak, didn't yell at me at all. It's really awesome to feel that in that moment where something's gone really wrong. ‘E' handled it like a pro. She didn't hold it against me, and she just wanted us to get ready for the next run.”
Two more to go. The third heat begins at 10:15 a.m.