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.”

NBC coverage of PyeongChang Winter Olympics live across all time zones

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NBC will broadcast its Winter Olympic TV programming live across all time zones for the first time at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.

This includes daytime, primetime and late-night coverage on NBC, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

On most nights, primetime coverage will begin at 8 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. CT, 6 p.m. MT and 5 p.m. PT.

“Nothing brings America together for two weeks like the Olympics, and that communal experience will now be shared across the country at the same time both on television and streaming online,” said Jim Bell, President, NBC Olympics Production & Programming. “That means social media won’t be ahead of the action in any time zone, and as a result, none of our viewers will have to wait for anything. This is exciting news for the audience, the advertisers, and our affiliates alike.”

Primetime coverage will be followed in all time zones by local news and then a “Primetime Plus” program with live continuing PyeongChang Olympic coverage.

A primetime replay will follow “Primetime Plus.”

The PyeongChang Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony is Feb. 9. Competition starts Feb. 8.

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MORE: PyeongChang Winter Olympics daily schedule highlights

John Orozco reflects on gymnastics career, looks to new venture

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Olympian John Orozco is getting set to leave the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, moving on from a decorated gymnastics career.

He’ll soon settle in Southern California, seeking to become a screen actor.

The Bronx native said he had never been asked how he wanted to be remembered by gymnastics fans. He offered this:

“Someone who could inspire people to keep pushing through no matter what,” Orozco said by phone Tuesday. “If it’s going on in their personal life, through the struggles at the gym or any other aspect of your life.

“You have to enjoy the struggles at times, because you wouldn’t appreciate success as much [if not].”

Orozco’s gymnastics were full of both. He evolved into a world-class athlete from the unlikeliest of backgrounds, emerging from family financial troubles and an area rife with gang violence.

Orozco’s mother, Damaris, used to drive him daily from the Bronx to the hamlet Chappaqua for gymnastics practice, usually more than an hour away with traffic. Damaris, who suffered for years with health problems including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, died two years ago.

Orozco’s career included bronze medals at three world championships (2011-team, 2013-parallel bars, 2014-team). Plus, a U.S. all-around title in 2012, when he became the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s gymnast since twins Paul and Morgan Hamm in 2000.

His favorite moment in 16 years as a gymnast? Marching out on the Olympic floor for the first time for qualification in London.

“Being one of five people in the nation representing your country, and in front of millions of people, you get to do what you love,” Orozco said. “It’s one of the most exhilarating feelings in the world, I think. I just remember walking out, and I heard the crowd screaming. It was really a breathtaking moment.”

Orozco did not perform the way he wanted in London, struggling on pommel horse and vault in the team final. The U.S. placed fifth, a disappointment after earning medals at the previous two Olympics and previous two world championships.

Orozco also erred on pommel horse in the all-around final and finished eighth. If he repeated his pommel horse score from qualifying, he would have bagged the silver medal.

But Orozco will be remembered as perhaps the greatest fighter in U.S. gymnastics history, coming back three times from major injuries. He decided not to a fourth time.

Before the age of 24, Orozco suffered two torn right Achilles and two torn left ACLs, the most recent setback last July, three weeks after tearfully coming back to earn a spot on his second Olympic team. That knocked him out of the Rio Games, and many thought Orozco’s career was finished.

Orozco was quoted in the fall saying that he would decide on his future after getting back to 100 percent.

“I actually never really got to 100 percent during my rehab before I decided to make this decision,” he said Tuesday. “I felt like this time around it wasn’t really happening with my ACL. It’s hard to find the motivation, especially after the Olympics are over. … It just feels like I’m kind of out of time, you know?”

It has been at least two decades since a U.S. men’s gymnast of Orozco’s caliber retired so young.

Orozco’s older Olympic teammates Jonathan Horton (31 years old), Danell Leyva (25) and Sam Mikulak (24) have not announced retirements yet.

Together, that group (plus a few others) heralded an era for U.S. men’s gymnastics where the team entered the Olympics and world championships with the expectation of contending for a medal. Even challenging China and Japan.

While Orozco is done competing, he may still do gymnastics. To stay in shape. And, given where he’s moving, perhaps teaching CrossFitters.

“I’m very, very grateful for the career that I’ve had,” he said.

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