Kaillie Humphries, Elana Meyers both want bobsled gold — and to race vs. men

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Canadian Kaillie Humphries and American Elana Meyers are co-gold-medal favorites in the two-woman bobsled event Tuesday and Wednesday, one of the most anticipated head-to-head matchups of the Olympics. (Watch it LIVE online or on your mobile device.)

Separated by one point in this season’s World Cup standings, Humphries calls their rivalry a “battle royale.” They talk a little trash, too.

The bobsled season ends with the Olympics, but Humphries and Meyers will reconvene in April, wearing dresses instead of skin suits.

That’s because Meyers invited her biggest threat to her wedding.

“I was really honored, actually,” Humphries said. “It was one of those moments that you realize it’s not just about sport.”

Humphries became the youngest female Olympic bobsled medalist when she won on home ice four years ago at age 24. The Calgary native is the two-time reigning world champion and World Cup champion. Sporting multiple tattoos and a half-shaved head, she is the standard of the sport. A gold in Sochi would make her the first two-time Olympic women’s bobsled champion (the sport debuted in 2002).

She has even bigger plans.

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Kaillie Humphries. (Photo credit: AP)

Humphries has been pushing the International Bobsled Federation (FIBT) to either add four-woman bobsled events or to let her drive a sled in a four-man race with three female or three male push athletes behind her.

The first Winter Olympics in 1924 included four-man bobsled. In 1932, two-man bobsled debuted. In 2002, a two-woman event started. Four-woman bobsled has yet to get going on the World Cup circuit, which would be a precursor to Olympic inclusion.

“Chicken and the egg, [a four-woman race] has got to start somewhere,” Humphries said. “It’s an envelope that I know I’m pushing. I’m hoping not too soon, but we’ll see.”

Humphries said the notion of racing against men is more realistic because of Meyers (metaphorically) pushing her.

They trained together this summer at the World Athletics Center in Phoenix, Ariz., a facility founded by two-time Olympic discus medalist John Godina. That decision was born out of a conversation between Humphries and Meyers during warm up at the 2013 World Championships.

“We wanted to take this sport to another level,” said Meyers, who went on to take silver behind Humphries at worlds. “We wanted to see how much we could challenge men.”

Humphries’ strength coach since 2007, Stu McMillan, was going to start working with U.S. Bobsled. The two had a thorough discussion before deciding to train alongside her biggest competition for gold in Sochi.

“We both agreed that in order to be the best, and in order to stay on top, I have to be able to be pushed,” Humphries said. “And Elana, she’s a competitor. She is my No. 1 competitor. It’s hard to continue to stay motivated, to stay on top. I knew that I needed somebody to push me.”

The brunt of their side-by-side work came in the weight room. If Meyers felt an inkling to give up on a tough lift, the reigning world and Olympic champion was a constant reminder. McMillan motivated both even more by sending each woman video of the other’s workouts.

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Elana Meyers (Photo credit: AP)

“He knew how to push our buttons,” said Meyers, a former college softball player who said she’s now in the best shape of her life. “He knew how to get under our skin.”

The partnership paid off immediately for Meyers, who had been sixth in the 2012-13 World Cup standings in her third season as a driver.

At the first World Cup on Nov. 30, Meyers finished second to Humphries on the Canadian’s hometown track in Calgary. The next week she swept two races in Park City, Utah, her first career World Cup victories. It was sweeter that Humphries was in the field, finishing second and seventh in those races.

“To show that it’s not impossible [to beat Humphries],” Meyers said. “To show that she can go down. Hopefully, it got in her head a little bit, too.”

Maybe it did.

Humphries won 11 of 14 World Cup or World Championships races in a span from 2011 to 2013. She’s since won two of the last seven World Cup races going into the Olympics.

“The gap has definitely been closed,” Humphries said. “That’s part of the game. As much as I don’t necessarily like it, I like when the gap is fairly big, that’s sport. That’s better for bobsleigh.”

In hindsight, Humphries doesn’t regret training with Meyers.

“I can’t do it alone,” Humphries said. “I didn’t get here alone. I’m certainly not going to stay here, nor am I going to continue to be at the top alone. She isn’t somebody that a lot of people would assume would be in my inner circle family, but at the end of the day I have just as much to learn from her, being around other people that are exactly like me, that adopt the same philosophies of hard work, preparation, determination. They’re very few. I see a lot of that in Elana. Being able to be reminded of that, especially at times when I’m weak, is a benefit to me.”

The training could create parallels between Humphries’ and Meyers’ careers.

  • Humphries was a brakeman in 2006 (an alternate), who became a driver after and won gold in her Olympic driving debut.
  • Meyers won a 2010 Olympic bronze medal as a brakeman for Erin Pac.

Also, Meyers shares Humphries’ groundbreaking ambition. She would like to be the U.S. Olympic Committee CEO one day. She has looked up to Humphries as far back as Vancouver.

“I felt like a lot of times Erin [Pac] was constantly comparing herself to Kaillie,” Meyers said. “In comparison, Kaillie doesn’t care. Kaillie’s going to go out there and rock it, or not rock it, and throw caution to the wind and do whatever she needs to win a race. That’s the type of driver I want to be.”

U.S. coach Todd Hays called the Meyers-Humphries partnership strange, given he competed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In that era, training with the dominant Germans or Canadians wouldn’t have been accepted. But Hays likes it now.

“It puts a little more human factor to her competitor and the Olympic champion,” he said. “[Meyers] sees [Humphries’] day-to-day personalities, struggles and insecurities.

“She realizes that Kaillie is just another human being. She can beat her any given day.”

Which leaves one question. If Meyers beats Humphries for gold on Wednesday, does she expect to see her at the wedding?

“We’ll see how the Olympics turn out,” Meyers said. “Maybe she’ll change her mind.”

Katie Ledecky’s win not the most impressive swim to open nationals

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Katie Ledecky won the 800m freestyle in a rout, but a swimmer with no Olympic experience had the most impressive victory on the opening night of USA Swimming Nationals on Tuesday.

Ledecky, the four-time Rio gold medalist, clocked 8:11.50 to win her trademark race by nearly nine seconds. That clinched her spot on the team for the world championships in Budapest in July.

“It’s important to get the job done here and get on to Budapest and do what I love, which is race at those big meets,” Ledecky said on NBCSN, adding later, “I didn’t rest too much for this [meet]. It’s hard to compare, but maybe compared to the other trials/selection meets, this might be the least tapered that I’ve been.”

Mallory Comerford was undoubtedly the star of the day at nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

The rising Louisville junior won the 100m freestyle in 52.81 seconds, the second-fastest time by an American in history and No. 3 time in the world this year.

Comerford, who was 12th at the Olympic Trials, relegated Olympic champion Simone Manuel to second place by .24 on Tuesday night. Lia NealKelsi WorrellOlivia Smoliga and Katie Ledecky rounded out the top six and should be part of the 4x100m free relay pool in Budapest.

Comerford continued to improve after a breakout NCAA season, when she tied Ledecky for the NCAA 200-yard freestyle title in the same Indy pool. Comerford and Ledecky will go head-to-head in the 200m free at nationals on Wednesday.

“I’ve been really trying to figure out long course [Olympic-size pools], and it’s finally nice for it to be clicking,” Comerford told media in Indianapolis.

SWIM NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Event Schedule/Results

The 2012 Olympic champion Nathan Adrian won the men’s 100m freestyle by one hundredth over Caeleb Dressel, repeating their one-two finish from the Olympic Trials.

“I didn’t know where they were, and if I would have looked around, I probably would have lost it,” Adrian said. “Touch the wall, and then figure out what place you got.”

Adrian clocked 47.96 seconds, ranking fourth in the world this year. Adrian and Dressel are set to be joined on the 4x100m free relay squad by Townley HaasZach AppleMichael Chadwick and Blake Pieroni.

Ryan Held, who famously broke down in tears on the Rio Olympic 4x100m free medal stand, finished seventh, missing the world team.

In the 200m butterfly, Jack Conger upset top seed Chase Kalisz, winning in 1:54.47.

Conger, who was suspended four months in 2016 as part of the Rio gas-station incident, now ranks fourth in the world this year in an event formerly dominated by Michael Phelps.

Kalisz, the Olympic 400m individual medley silver medalist, didn’t even make the world team in the 200m butterfly. He was out-touched for second place by Pace Clark by .21.

The women’s 200m fly final went to form, with Olympian Hali Flickinger taking the win by 1.11 seconds in 2:07.60. Flickinger ranks 10th in the world.

The 200m fly final was missing Olympic butterfliers Cammile Adams (not racing at nationals) and Kelsi Worrell (racing at nationals, but not the 200m fly) and Trials third-place finisher Cassidy Bayer (eliminated in morning prelims).

Joining Flickinger on the world team is Dakota Luther, a 17-year-old rising high school senior. No high schoolers made the Rio Olympic swim team.

True Sweetser and Robert Finke made their first world team by going one-two in the 1500m free.

MORE: Missy Franklin: ‘What if I’m never as good as I was?’

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Sage Kotsenburg will not defend Olympic slopestyle title

Sage Kotsenburg
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Sage Kotsenburg, the first Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, will not defend his title in PyeongChang and is finished with contest riding.

Kotsenburg, 23, said he chose to devote the rest of his career to filming snowboarding movies rather than competing. It’s a common transition in the sport, but an unusual one for a reigning Olympic gold medalist.

“It had been on my mind since literally the day I won in Sochi,” said Kotsenburg, who last competed in early 2016. “I had my heart set on stopping competing after the Olympics, and then winning puts you in such a different mindset. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do anymore. I was on a high, so pumped on competing. I would get to the contests [after Sochi], and I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t have the edge to try this new trick anymore. All the time, I’m looking at [social media] posts from other people riding in Switzerland and Whistler [Canada] filming backcountry. I thought, I want to be there right now.

“I finally said to myself, I’ve got to do what makes me happy. Competing doesn’t make me happy right now.”

Kotsenburg said relief flooded over him after telling sponsors — including Oakley, Monster, GoPro and Stance socks — he would not ride in competition anymore. He wanted to know if they would stick with him during his filming career, but he understood if they felt otherwise.

“Each one of them said we’re happy to have you on board and keep it going,” he said. “After I told them, it was so much pressure off my chest. I knew I could just go snowboarding again.”

Growing up in Park City, Kotsenburg was fixated more on snowboarding movies than following contests. Though he’ll never forget watching the U.S. sweep the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic men’s halfpipe and then meeting Ross PowersDanny Kass and J.J. Thomas as an 8-year-old.

Kotsenburg was truly a surprise Olympic champion in 2014, taking gold after going into his first Winter Games with a goal to “make snowboarding look cool.” The Park City native later said President Obama told him, “Sage, this guy was like the favorite moment of the Games.”

“Looking back on it in 30 or 40 years, I’ll remember all the hard work and stress and craziness that went into it,” Kotsenburg said. “It was so worth it in the end. It’s something that’s made me who I am today. I think about it every day.”

Kotsenburg was at best inconsistent at the Winter X Games before and after his Sochi breakout — fifth in 2010, 10th in 2011, second in 2012, 13th in 2013, 15th in 2014, fifth in 2015 and 10th in 2016. Kotsenburg’s win at the last U.S. Olympic qualifier in January 2014 marked his first trip to the top of a slopestyle podium in about nine years.

In Sochi, Kotsenburg took gold by landing a cab double cork 1260 with a Kotsenburg-invented Holy Crail grab and a back 1620 Japan Air, trying the latter trick for the first time in his life (he hasn’t tried it since). The rider known as “Second-Run Sage” did it on his first run, scoring 93.5 points.

After the Olympics, Kotsenburg capitalized on his gold. He ate a bacon gold medal given to him by Conan O’Brien, listened to Obama call him “sick and chill” and took his gold medal out of a white sock on “Mad Money” with Jim Cramer.

“Being backstage on Letterman, I was tripping,” he said. “Craziest one was definitely going to the White House and meeting Obama was insane. He said he watched the Olympics, and I had the chillest and most relaxed interview he had ever seen.”

Kotsenburg said he still needs to get a proper box to store his medal. He joked he might rather buy a manikin and hang it around its neck along with some cool outerwear.

Before what would have been the last contest of his career, Kotsenburg essentially suffered a concussion at Fenway Park in training at a big air event in February 2016. Kotsenburg said the head injury was very minor and that it did not factor into his retirement decision.

Kotsenburg spent all last winter riding in Alaska, Wyoming, Lake Tahoe, Utah and Whistler for a Snowboarder Magazine film called “Pepper.”

He plans to ride more this winter for his own film project and possibly attend the Olympics in a non-competitive capacity. 

The top slopestyle snowboarders going into PyeongChang are Canadians Mark McMorrisMax Parrot and Tyler Nicholson, Norwegians Marcus Kleveland and Stale Sandbech and American Red Gerard.

Gerard, 16, has known Kotsenburg for several years and once wore the Sochi gold medal.

“I hope [Gerard] comes home with a medal, even gold,” Kotsenburg said. “He’s got such awesome style and really respects the background of snowboarding. He’s been filming, too, and really respects that type of snowboarding. Which I respect a lot.”

MORE: Kelly Clark hopes to add one more Olympic bib to historic wall