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.”

U.S. Olympians reveal they have defective Rio medals

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Kyle Snyder made history at the Rio Olympics by becoming the youngest American wrestler to win a gold medal.

The medal will soon be history as well, to be replaced by the IOC and Rio organizers because of damage.

Snyder and Helen Maroulis, another U.S. gold medalist wrestler, are among a group of more than 100 athletes from around the world with defective Olympic medals. Beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings says her bronze medal from last summer is flaking and rusting.

Rio Games spokesman Mario Andrada said Friday that officials have noted problems with the covering on 6 to 7 percent of the medals.

“The most common issue is that they were dropped or mishandled, and the varnish has come off and they’ve rusted or gone black in the spot where they were damaged,” Andrada said.

Snyder, who wrestles for Ohio State, was 20 when he won his medal. He noticed an issue with his medal the day after he won it.

He went to a party at the Team USA house in Rio, where he said multiple people handled the medal as they celebrated. Snyder said he later discovered a scratch on the back of it, though he added there has been no further damage.

Snyder said he has until the end of the week to return his gold medal and has no idea when he’ll receive his replacement.

“It wasn’t too big of a deal,” Snyder said. “But since they’re giving me a new one, it’s kind of cool.”

Rio de Janeiro spent about $12 billion to organize the Games, which were plagued by cost-cutting, poor attendance and reports of bribes and corruption linked to the building of some Olympic-related facilities.

Nine months later, many of the venues are empty and have no tenants or income – with the maintenance costs dumped on the federal government. In addition to the issues with the medals, which featured the Rio and Olympic logos, the local organizing committee still owes creditors about $30 million.

Greg Massialas, a national coach for the U.S. fencing team in Rio, said in a message to The Associated Press that the silver medal son Alex won is damage free. He added that he hasn’t heard about any issues with other American fencers.

U.S. shooter Ginny Thrasher and boxer Claressa Shields, along with men’s tennis bronze medalist Kei Nishikori of Japan, also reported that their gold medals are intact.

Walsh Jennings, who won three golds in previous Olympics, says her medals tend to get beaten up because she doesn’t hesitate to let people touch them or try them on. But she won’t consider locking them up because people are inspired by them.

“They’ve offered to replace them. I’m not sure if I want to swap it out,” Walsh-Jennings told the AP, adding the reason was “100 percent sentimental.”

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U.S. stars face doubts at Pre Classic; broadcast schedule

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In Rio, the U.S. failed to win a single gold medal in the 100m, 200m and 400m for the first time in 40 years.

If the early track season is any indication, the climb back to the top of the podium at the world championships in August will be a major challenge.

American sprinters size up against international competition at the Prefontaine Classic on Saturday (NBC and NBC Sports Gold, 4-6 p.m. ET). Coverage from the Diamond League meet in Eugene, Ore., starts with distance races Friday night (NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold, 11-midnight ET).

The deepest race is the women’s 200m, which features the top two U.S. sprinters in Tori Bowie and Allyson Felix. The field includes every 2016 Olympic 200m medalist — Elaine ThompsonDafne Schippers and Bowie — plus Rio 400m gold and silver medalists Shaunae Miller and Felix.

The Jamaican Thompson and Bahamian Miller already look ready to win their first world titles in August.

Thompson crushed Bowie in a 100m two weeks ago, 10.78 seconds to 11.04. Miller ran 49.77 to win a 400m at the same meet, the fastest time of 2017 by a significant .27 of a second.

Bowie has the fastest 200m time in the world this year at 22.09, but Miller has run a wind-aided 21.90 and Thompson clocked 22.19 into a strong headwind.

Then there’s Felix, whose scant race experience in 2017 consists of a 4x400m leg in April and a 100m last Saturday. She has plenty to prove at Pre, at 31 years old and coming off an injury-plagued 2016.

Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt carried U.S. men’s sprinting the last Olympic cycle, but they are 35 and 30 years old, respectively.

The Rio 100m silver medalist Gatlin in particular is showing his age this season, reportedly while coming back from minor April injuries.

He has raced twice, clocking 10.14 and 10.28 seconds over 100m, the slowest he has been since the early stages of his comeback from a four-year doping ban in 2010.

In Eugene, Gatlin faces 22-year-old Canadian Andre De Grasse, billed by many as the top challenger to Usain Bolt in the 100m and Wayde van Niekerk in the 200m at worlds in August.

Merritt, who owns seven 400m medals from the Olympics and worlds, is the top seed in Saturday’s 400m, but he ranks No. 6 in the world this year with a best of 44.78 seconds. Merritt has a history of faster times at Pre (44.39, 44.51, 43.97 and 44.32 the last four years).

Eugene start lists are available here. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):

FRIDAY
10:34 p.m. — Women’s javelin
10:37 — Women’s long jump
11:06 — Women’s 800m
11:14 — Women’s 1500m
11:25 — Women’s 3000m steeplechase
11:41 — Women’s 5000m

SATURDAY
3:40 p.m. — Men’s pole vault
3:44 — Men’s triple jump
4:03 — Women’s 400m hurdles
4:08 — Women’s high jump
4:13 — Men’s 5000m
4:33 — Women’s 100m hurdles
4:41 — Men’s 110m hurdles
4:50 — Women’s 100m
4:56 — Women’s shot put
5 — Men’s international mile
5:09 — Men’s 400m
5:16 — Women’s 800m
5:24 — Men’s 100m
5:32 — Women’s 1500m
5:45 — Women’s 200m
5:52 — Men’s Bowerman Mile

Here are five Saturday events to watch:

Men’s pole vault — 3:40 p.m. ET

The phenom of the early season is 17-year-old Swede Armand Duplantis, a Louisiana high school junior whose mother is from Sweden. Duplantis, owner of the highest outdoor clearance in the world this year, makes his Diamond League debut in Eugene.

He does it against every medalist from the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, led by Rio gold medalist Thiago Braz and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie. Saturday’s winner likely becomes the world championships favorite.

Men’s 5000m — 4:13 p.m. ET

Mo Farah hasn’t lost a 5000m since the 2013 Pre Classic. His 10-meet winning streak is on the line against Rio silver and bronze medalists Paul Chelimo (USA) and Hagos Gebrhiwet (Ethiopia). A Who’s Who of challengers Farah has previously vanquished get one more shot at him before Farah’s final world championships on the track in London in August.

Men’s 110m hurdles — 4:41 p.m. ET

This field features the last two Olympic champions — Jamaican Omar McLeod and American Aries Merritt — and the last two world champions — Russian Sergey Shubenkov and American David Oliver.

But the most intriguing name is Devon Allen, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials winner and former University of Oregon wide receiver. Allen, who has given up football for now, came back from a September torn ACL earlier this month and ranks No. 5 in the world for 2017.

Men’s 100m — 5:24 p.m. ET

Justin Gatlin and Andre De Grasse will hope this showdown doesn’t yield the dud of their meeting in Doha on May 5. Back then, the Gatlin-De Grasse winner was poised to become the biggest threat to Usain Bolt at worlds in August. But Gatlin was fourth an De Grasse fifth in Qatar, throwing doubt on both sprinters.

Nobody else in the Pre field looks like a world championships medal contender. Bolt debuts in his last season June 10, while the absent South African Akani Simbine has broken 10 seconds six times in seven races this year, including beating Gatlin and De Grasse in Doha.

Women’s 200m — 5:45 p.m. ET

The reigning Olympic 100m, 200m and 400m champions are in the same field for the second time in recent history (2012 Olympic 200m final). Thompson has to be the favorite. She hasn’t lost a 100m or 200m since last June and dusted the Olympic silver medalist Schippers by .26 in Doha three weeks ago.

Watch for Felix, as her result may go into determining if she attempts a double at worlds in August. Felix has a bye into the worlds 400m as the defending champion, meaning she will race the 100m and/or 200m at the U.S. Championships. Should she finish top three at nationals in either sprint, she will then determine which race(s) she enters at worlds.

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