The Olympic sliding season begins, with high US expectations
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — The scene following just about every World Cup women’s bobsled race last season looked something like this: Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser on the podium, both American women celebrating yet another medal as they waved a bouquet of flowers into the frosty air.
They’re hoping to reprise that a few times this winter — all the way to the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The World Cup sliding season starts Thursday for bobsled and skeleton, and racing on the home ice of Mount Van Hoevenberg for the opener should give Greubel Poser and Meyers Taylor an edge over the rest of the field as the Olympic campaign officially begins. It’s not like they need a lot of help: In the nine major races last season, the two driving stars combined for seven wins.
“I have great equipment, amazing pushers, I know what I’m doing and I know what I’ve done,” Greubel Poser said. “I’m ready to do it.”
There are always some surprise names that pop up in an Olympic year, but there’s also little doubt that the three women’s bobsled pilots who reached the podium at the Sochi Games in 2014 are the huge favorites to get there again in February in South Korea. Canada’s Kaillie Humphries is the two-time reigning gold medalist, Meyers Taylor got silver in 2014 and Greubel Poser took bronze.
Greubel Poser, Humphries and Meyers Taylor finished 1-2-3 in the World Cup overall standings last season, and at the world championships, it was Meyers Taylor winning gold, Humphries getting silver and Greubel Poser taking bronze. And odds are, it’ll be those three again — in some order — in Pyeongchang.
“The depth of this team is unbelievable,” U.S. coach Brian Shimer said.
Women’s skeleton and two-man bobsled is also on Thursday’s schedule in Lake Placid, with men’s skeleton and another two-man bobsled race set for Friday. There are two two-man races this weekend, and two four-man races in Park City, Utah, when the circuit heads next weekend.
While the World Cups matter, this season it’s about finding what works — including finding which push athletes from a deep U.S. pool will be best served to help Meyers Taylor and Greubel Poser in the season’s ultimate race. Olympic medalist Aja Evans is back, Kehri Jones pushed Meyers Taylor to gold at worlds last season and hurdler-turned-bobsledder Lolo Jones returns to resume her medal quest as well.
So realistically, the World Cup season is an Olympic preseason of sorts.
“Pretty much. This year they kind of have to be because we have to test these brakemen,” Meyers Taylor said. “As much as I wanted to go out and crush every World Cup, at the end of the day we’re going to have to try some things.”
Greubel Poser will have Evans in her sled Thursday, while Meyers Taylor will get pushed by Lauren Gibbs and the USA-3 sled driven by Brittany Reinbolt will have Briauna Jones in the back seat.
It was an offseason of tumult for the U.S. bobsled program. Shimer’s home in Naples, Florida, got clobbered by Hurricane Irma, setting back his preparations for the season. There already have been some injury issues. And of course, the biggest blow was the death of longtime USA-1 driver Steven Holcomb, who would have been Olympics-bound again this winter.
His death leaves not just a hole in the men’s roster but on the entire team.
It’s the women like Meyers Taylor and Greubel Poser who could ensure that the U.S. stays on track. Both are going through their second Olympic cycle as drivers, have dealt with plenty of disappointments along with plenty of victories and now know the biggest season in their careers has arrived.
“Leading up to Sochi my success was more of a pleasant surprise,” Greubel Poser said. “Now I have higher expectations and goals. I want to win.”