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If experience wins in bobsled, U.S. primed for 2018 glory

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From left: Elana Meyers, Lauryn Williams, Aja Evans and Jamie Greubel. (Credit: AP)

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The difference between women’s bobsled gold and silver was one tenth of a second and four years of experience.

Canadian Kaillie Humphries came back to defend her Olympic  title, erasing a deficit of .23 after the first two runs and beating American Elana Meyers by .1 after four runs at Sanki Sliding Center on Wednesday night.

Meyers, with push athlete Lauryn Williams, averaged nearly .05 faster in start times per run than Humphries and Heather Moyse, a critical portion of the race that can dictate speed the rest of the way down the track. The U.S. also has fantastic technology, new BMW sleds that awed Humphries.

That left one area for Humphries to really make up ground on Meyers – driving.

They say it can take eight years for drivers to hit their peaks. Humphries has been doing just that, ever since being left off the 2006 Olympic Team when she was a push athlete.

Meyers has been driving for four years, ever since winning bronze at the 2010 Olympics as a push athlete.

“It makes a big difference, in all fairness,” Humphries said.

VIDEO: Watch Canada defend its Olympic gold

Humphries put together four consistent runs over two days, keeping her golden form at major championships, the only events that switch from the two- to four-run format. She changed her sled’s runners from Tuesday to Wednesday, but wasn’t fazed in her driving approach, despite the deficit.

She had reason to be calm.

Humphries trained with Meyers last summer and is so close to the American that she will attend Meyers’ wedding in April. That partnership also helped Meyers, the 2013 world silver medalist, close the gap on 2013 world champion Humphries during eight races that comprise the World Cup season. Humphries barely won her third straight season title, 1,629-1,628 over Meyers.

Humphries went into Sochi knowing she had a consistency edge over Meyers. That showed Wednesday.

Meyers matched her start record in the third of four runs, but after getting into the sled she struggled, hitting a wall and skidding. The .23 lead was down to .11. The Canadians were confident.

“After the third run I said to Kaillie, ‘You know what, the gap is closing,’” Moyse said.

In the fourth and final run, the Humphries threw down the fastest time of the field. Then came Meyers, going last. She skidded again. Humphries watched on a screen at the bottom of the track, recognizing Meyers’ mistakes.

“That’s pressure,” Humphries said. “Driving experience plays a factor into that.”

It also was the edge.

Humphries and Moyse won their second straight Olympic gold. They were the only driver-push athlete combo in the 19-sled field that also competed together at the 2010 Olympics.

Meyers was the only member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Women’s Bobsled Team with previous Winter Olympic experience, and it was under completely different circumstances as a push athlete.

VIDEO: Meyers, Williams sled to silver

“I have a lot to learn,” said Meyers, who said she was delighted with silver, becoming the first two-time U.S. Olympic women’s bobsled medalist. “Driving is all about consistency. That’s what it takes to win Olympic gold. It takes four consistent runs. I didn’t have ‘em.”

The next four years will be about gathering consistency.

Meyers, 29, plans on sledding through to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, as does Humphries, 28.

Who else will be in Meyers’ sled is a big question.

Three-time track Olympian Lauryn Williams became the fifth person to win Winter and Summer Olympic medals in different disciplines, pushing for Meyers this week. She is 30, retired from sprinting and wouldn’t commit to anything past eating a pizza Wednesday night.

USA-2 driver Jamie Greubel, who won bronze Wednesday, said she will drive next season and then “see how it goes.”

Greubel’s push athlete, Aja Evans, is going back to track and field as a heptathlete. She’s thinking about the Rio Olympics.

Then there’s Lolo Jones, who finished 11th with the No. 3 U.S. driver, Jazmine Fenlator.

“I’ll take seven days off and begin preparing for track,” she said. “It’s going to be brutal. I need to lose 15 pounds.”

VIDEO: Lolo stays positive after 11th place finish

Fenlator will keep driving. She wants Jones to return.

“I told her she can take a break for Rio,” Fenlator said, “but I’m going to reel her back in.”

Jones is 31 and re-entering track as an underdog. She finished fifth in the 100m hurdles at last year’s U.S. Championships; the top 3 finishers were at least five years younger than her.

In bobsled, there’s sure to be changeover next season, but Meyers will be the steady leader. She will continue to chase Humphries, and she may very well catch and pass her very soon.

“She’s got the physical ability to do it,” said Helen Upperton, a two-time Canadian Olympic bobsledder now working for CBC. “Kaillie’s a great driver, but if you’re getting outstarted, and as people acquire more runs, they’re going to become better pilots. She’s already giving Kaillie a run for the money.”

Ashton Eaton seeks exit strategy with one decathlon box left to check

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18:  Ashton Eaton of the United States competes in the Men's Decathlon Javelin Throw on Day 13 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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A defining moment of Ashton Eaton‘s career came at a competition where he could not take part. On May 30, 2015, Eaton withdrew before the start of a decathlon in Götzis, Austria, citing a back injury.

Götzis is the multi events’ Augusta National or Wimbledon. The decathlon world record was broken there three times since 1980, including the first 9,000-point score by Czech Roman Sebrle in 2001.

Eaton had never competed in Götzis, previously also withdrawing due to injury, and missing another chance at the annual meet clearly bothered him last year.

Yet Eaton still showed up. After all, his wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, would compete in the heptathlon at the meet. But on that first day of competition, Eaton grabbed a microphone and addressed the stadium in a way that spoke to his character.

“This competition is not about me,” Eaton said to the crowd, a good number of them having shown up hoping to see Eaton challenge his world record in his first decathlon in 19 months. “Don’t make this Ashton Eaton isn’t competing thing part of this competition because that would be criminal. You would be stealing a great experience from all of the athletes.”

Today, the decathlon is far from the front of Eaton’s mind. He is coming off his second straight Olympic title and set to travel to British Columbia, Peru and Kenya with his wife the next several weeks.

Eaton has said he will retire from track and field before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He may not even compete past next season.

There is little left for Eaton to accomplish in the decathlon. He has two Olympic titles, two world titles and two world records. But there is one box left to check.

“I know I would want to do Götzis,” Eaton said in a phone interview while promoting sponsor QALO recently.

It’s not about righting a wrong or making up for withdrawing from the Austrian meet in 2013 and 2015 due to injuries.

“It’s more of a sense of missing out on something very cool,” Eaton said. “It’s the home of the multi events, really.”

Eaton isn’t ready to commit yet, but he could see a scenario where he trains through the Götzis meet in May and then decides if he wants to compete at the 2017 World Championships in London, where he won his first Olympic gold medal. He has a bye into worlds as the defending champion.

“It would be a nice bookend,” Eaton said.

When Eaton recently spoke with 1976 Olympic decathlon champion Caitlyn Jenner on the phone, Eaton had one main question: Was it tough to leave the sport?

Jenner never competed in another decathlon after the Montreal Games. Jenner woke the day after the 1976 decathlon, looked into a hotel mirror, naked except for the gold medal, and said, “What the hell am I going to do now?” according to Sports Illustrated.

Maybe Eaton knew this when he asked Jenner earlier this month. Regardless, he liked the response.

“I just looked back, and I said thanks for the great time and all the memories, and then moved on,” Jenner, who went on to endorsements galore to become America’s “Apple Pie Hero,” told him.

Eaton has fewer options than Jenner did, but certainly different and perhaps more ambitious ones, such as starting a university, according to The Associated Press.

“Track has shaped me a lot, and there will be a time to move on,” Eaton said. “I imagine it won’t be super difficult, because I’ll have fond memories.”

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Usain Bolt meets David Beckham

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Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, recently met former soccer star David Beckham at a restaurant.

Both global sporting icons posted similar photos on social media with similar captions Monday morning.

Beckham played midfield for Manchester United, and Bolt is a longtime fan of the soccer club.

Bolt, who is planning on retiring after the 2017 World Championships, was recently asked about the possibility of Manchester United while hosting a Facebook Live.

“If I had the chance to play for Manchester United, I would go right now,” he said, laughing. “I would retire and start playing futbol right now. That’s how much I really want to play for Manchester United.”

MORE: Usain Bolt says he received offers to play wide receiver in the NFL (video)

Fastest man in the world .. I think that's all I need to say… ⚡️⚡️ pleasure to meet the best @usainbolt

A photo posted by David Beckham (@davidbeckham) on

No caption needed @davidbeckham

A photo posted by Usain St.Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) on