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Katie Eberling at peace with bobsled retirement

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U.S. bobsledder Katie Eberling hoped that in her second attempt to make an Olympic team, she would hold more control of her destiny.

That all changed three weeks ago, when she suffered two high-grade hamstring tears at a preseason camp in Calgary.

She would not be able to return in time for next week’s national team trials, effectively ending her 2018 Olympic hopes.

Eberling flew home to the Chicago suburbs. She took a few days. Thought about it. Thought about the last few months. Maybe even thought about what happened in January 2014.

Eberling remembered what she prayed on the flight out to Calgary in early September.

“God, if this [bobsledding] is not where I’m supposed to be, just please make it clear because I’ve reached the point of exhaustion of just feeling like my head, my heart, my gut were kind of not on the same page,” Eberling shared. “So, He made it clear.”

Eberling decided to retire from bobsledding at age 29.

She’s at peace, grateful for what happened.

“I needed the injury to make the decision,” Eberling said in a phone interview. “If I didn’t have an injury, then I wouldn’t have stopped. But it was the right decision without it, too.”

She ended one of the most unique and challenging careers in the sport.

Eberling picked up bobsled in 2011, one year after finishing a four-year volleyball stint at Western Michigan. She was recruited to the sport by Elana Meyers Taylor, a 2010 Olympic bronze medalist brakewoman who transitioned to driving.

Meyers Taylor was looking for somebody to help push her sled and saw Eberling’s name on a National Strength and Conditioning Association Athletes of the Year list. Eberling could run 40 yards in 4.65 seconds, her bio read. So Meyers Taylor sent her a Facebook message.

Less than a year later, Meyers Taylor and Eberling won bronze at the world championships. The following year, the year before the Sochi Olympics, they won silver together.

But on Jan. 19, 2014, Eberling was told by a six-person selection committee that she wouldn’t be an Olympian.

They chose three other brakewomen, all with less experience than Eberling but some with better recent results or better speed or strength statistics. Lolo Jones was the last brakewoman to make the team. Controversy followed.

“After the selections, I talked to all the brakemen,” Meyers Taylor said last week. “I was heartbroken over Katie, especially because she was in my sled. Because I brought her up. Because I felt like I mentored her the entire way.”

Eberling deliberated and accepted an offer to travel to Sochi as an alternate. She helped lug 400-pound sleds and sanded blades at the Olympics. She remained a team player despite officially being cut from the team.

She obliged some media requests and noted her Opening Ceremony experience, tears falling as she watched the event on TV.

Eberling returned from Russia with another choice — continue in bobsled after the public heartbreak or put a teaching degree to use.

“I will not move forward in this sport as a brakeman; I can’t deal with the subjective decision-making and the lack of control and job security,” she blogged a few days after the Sochi Closing Ceremony. “If I don’t at least try driving, I will never truly understand it as an option. … I may love it or I may hate it. I may be a natural or I may be the worst person to ever try it. Point is-there is only one way to find it out.

“For now, I don’t have to commit to another four years… just to another month.”

The transition was difficult.

Eberling spent the last two seasons scraping with three other drivers to be the No. 3 U.S. pilot behind Olympic medalists Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser. It’s likely that the U.S. will qualify the maximum three sleds for PyeongChang this winter.

“I genuinely believed that I was going to be able to earn a spot on the team,” Eberling said last week. “Driving really challenged me in a lot of ways. I crashed a lot. I learned a lot. I got to compete for my country. And I got to go through it with some really great people. And so I think for the amount of experience that I gained, there’s no way I can see any regret. Even knowing how this summer went.”

Eberling planned to spend the entire summer in Johnson City, Tenn., living and training with Steven Holcomb, a triple Olympic medalist and the face of U.S. Bobsled. They would build up to the 2018 Olympics together.

“I would say that the person that spends the most time with me is fellow bobsledder Katie Eberling,” Holcomb wrote in a questionnaire before an NBC Olympic shoot in late April. “We’ve been close for a number of years, and I hang out with her more than anybody else.”

On May 6, Eberling was driving from her family’s lake house in Indiana to Johnson City to start her preseason training. She expected Holcomb to meet her the following week, even though he had been quiet in recent days.

A teammate called Eberling during her drive and told her to pull over.

Holcomb had been found dead in his room at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“My family drove and met me and drove me back to our lake house,” Eberling said. “It’s kind of a blur, to be honest.”

Eberling spoke at both of Holcomb’s memorial services in Lake Placid and in Park City, Utah.

“Because I knew him in such a different capacity, I wanted to make sure everyone knew him beyond his accolades and beyond his medals,” she said. Holcomb gave his podium flowers from the Sochi two-man event to Eberling, who still has them at her home. “It was important that I wanted them to remember the amazing person that he was. Kind, considerate, thoughtful. Just how good he was at seeing things and the needs of people. It was just a really special gift.”

She returned to training, but it never felt right going to Lake Placid or Calgary.

“Every time I left home, I was being submerged in an environment where I felt the loss the deepest,” she said. “I told myself to keep plugging away.”

Why?

“Your dream of being an Olympian,” she said. “I always said I would do it as long as I felt like I had purpose and joy in it, and as long as it seemed like it was the right path. And it did.”

When she got hurt, Eberling knew in her heart that she needed a new path. She hasn’t decided what that will be. The passionate Chicago Cubs fan would love to work at Wrigley Field (“Even if I have to clean toilets,” she joked.)

For Christmas 2012, Holcomb gave Eberling a dream capsule.

She took out what she had written and ripped it up in 2014, changing the last phrase to what it reads today: To live in the moment, trust God with my all my heart, to love all people and to become an Olympian in 2018.

“I know it’s going to be hard,” she said. “I couldn’t have foreseen it ending like this.”

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Sochi gold medalist Jamie Anderson makes another Olympics

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BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Jamie Anderson will be headed to the 2018 Olympics to defend her gold medal, and she’s hoping to bring some big tricks with her.

By finishing in second place, best among U.S. slopestyle riders, at Dew Tour Breckenridge, Anderson has confirmed her nomination to the U.S. Olympic snowboard team for both slopestyle and big air.

The Breckenridge event served as the third of five selection events for the slopestyle and big air team.

On her second and third runs, Anderson attempted to up the ante by adding a cab double underflip — one of the most progressive tricks in women’s slopestyle snowboarding right now.

She washed out on both attempts but was able to finish on the podium based on the strength of her first run.

The cab double underflip is a new trick for Anderson this season. She learned it earlier this year and then landed it in a contest for the first time back in August.

It’s also a trick that U.S. teammate Julia Marino and Austria’s Anna Gasser had dialed in last season when they beat Anderson at several contests.

“When I was asked about double corks three years ago, I think I said there was no way in hell I ever want to do double corks,” Anderson said. “And then, with a lot of the other girls slowly getting their double corks together, I started to shift my mindset and realize that we also are capable of doing these tricks.”

MORE: Breckenridge women’s slopestyle results

So far, she’s only landed the trick a handful of times. And in the process of learning it, she’s endured some rough crashes that have upped the fear factor of the trick for her.

“I still feel pretty not-that-comfortable going upside-down twice, but it’s fun and it’s starting to click a little bit more,” she said.

Defending her slopestyle gold medal in PyeongChang will be no easy task for Anderson.

Gasser has been dominant over the last year thanks in part to her mastery of the cab double underflip, and Canada’s Spencer O’Brien has put her name in the mix as well after taking the victory in Breckenridge.

Anderson will also have a chance to compete in big air in PyeongChang, though her strongest results have historically come in slopestyle.

Hailey Langland (fourth place) and Marino (sixth place) finished second and third among Americans in Breckenridge.

Both will be expected to secure spots on the team at one of the next two selection events. A fourth spot on the team could be awarded at the discretion of the coaches.

U.S. Olympic Qualifying Standings
Big Air/Slopestyle 
(through three of five events)
1. Red Gerard — 1,400*
2. Chris Corning — 1,200*
3. Chandler Hunt — 1,160*
4. Kyle Mack — 1,000*
5. Judd Henkes — 1000

1. Jamie Anderson — 2,000* QUALIFIED
2. Julia Marino — 1,600*
2. Hailey Langland — 1,600*
4. Jessika Jenson — 1,050
5. Ty Walker — 1,000
*Has automatic qualifying minimum of one top-three result.

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Breckenridge Finals (all times Eastern)
Friday
Men’s Ski Halfpipe — 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Women’s Ski Halfpipe — 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe — 4:15-5 p.m.

Saturday
Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 11-11:45 a.m.
Men’s Snowboard Slopestyle — 12:15-1:30 p.m.
Men’s Ski Slopestyle — 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Women’s Ski Slopestyle — 4:15-5 p.m.

Lindsey Vonn wins 78th World Cup race (video)

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Lindsey Vonn‘s latest comeback victory, one that reinvigorated her Olympic medal hopes, came at the venue where her Olympic bid died four years ago.

Vonn overcame early season back and knee troubles to win her 78th World Cup race — and first in nearly 11 months — a super-G in Val d’Isere, France on Saturday. NBCSN will air coverage at 5 p.m. ET.

“I guess I’m not a washed-up old hag,” Vonn said, according to the U.S. Ski Team. “I think I proved myself, and karma definitely comes back around. I’ve got some good karma coming my way.”

She prevailed by .31 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia and .39 over Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel. Vonn has won World Cups here six times before, earning cows as prizes.

Vonn put in a scare, nearly skiing out at the bottom of the course, but let out her usual victory screams in the finish area and grabbed a TV camera, repeating, “Yes!”

Full Results

Vonn is now eight victories shy of the record she covets — retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s 86 career World Cup wins. She has said she hopes to break the record by the end of next season, after which she may retire.

First, her Olympic return in PyeongChang, four years after missing Sochi. The final straw came at this French resort in December 2013, where Vonn skied out with MCL and joint damage on top of a previous ACL tear.

Vonn’s PyeongChang medal hopes rode a roller coaster the last year.

A broken arm in a Nov. 10, 2016 crash. A win in her second race back in January, plus podiums at the world championships and at the Olympic venue in February and March.

Then a crash and a fall in two of her first three speed races this season. And last Saturday’s back injury and the images of being helped to walk with supporting poles in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

She withdrew from Sunday’s race — which was eventually canceled due to weather — flew to Austria and received therapy.

“It was mentally challenging to overcome that and be able to trust myself and push myself, even though I’m maybe not moving as well as I normally do,” Vonn said, adding that her back loosened up Saturday after the first few gates. “That’s been the biggest thing the last few weeks is just keep going, keep fighting, keep trying, keep picking yourself back up.

“I knew that the results would come eventually, but the important thing was just to continue to be tough.”

Vonn’s dad was waiting for her in his first visit to Val d’Isere.

“It was really cute when he was crying in the finish,” she said.

There was reason to doubt Vonn at age 33, given her extensive injury history. Only one woman has won a World Cup race at a more advanced age — Austrian Elisabeth Goergl in 2014.

Now, she has two months to stay healthy before the Olympic speed races, where she is a medal favorite in the downhill and super-G.

“I’m back on track,” she said. “[This win] proves what I already knew, that my skiing is good.”

First up is another World Cup super-G in Val d’Isere on Sunday (4:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

World Cup overall leader Mikaela Shiffrin is skipping this weekend’s races to prepare for upcoming slaloms and giant slaloms.

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Val d’Isere Super-G
1. Lindsey Vonn (USA) — 1:04.86
2. Sofia Goggia (ITA) — +.31
3. Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR) — +.39
8. Laurenne Ross (USA) — +.97
22. Alice McKennis (USA) — +1.62
24. Alice Merryweather (USA) — +2.03
34. Stacey Cook (USA) — +2.63
38. Breezy Johnson (USA) — +2.86
45. Julia Mancuso (USA) — +5.56
DNF. Jackie Wiles (USA)