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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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Olympic ski cross champion suffers serious knee injury

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Canadian Marielle Thompson, the reigning Olympic and World Cup ski cross champion, ruptured an ACL and MCL in a training crash in Switzerland.

Alpine Canada did not say when the accident happened or what Thompson’s chances are of returning to defend her Olympic title in PyeongChang.

Thompson flew from Switzerland to Vancouver for an MRI that confirmed the injury.

“I’ll be making a plan with my team moving forward and when the time is right getting back on the ski cross course stronger than ever,” Thompson said in a press release.

Thompson, 25, tore a meniscus in January 2015 and returned to competition 11 months later. She won seven of the 13 World Cup races last season.

Other Olympic medal contenders include Swede Sandra Näslund and Swiss Fanny Smith.

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Nathan Chen leads Yuzuru Hanyu at Grand Prix opener (video)

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U.S. champion Nathan Chen hopes to become comfortable in this spot this season — ahead of reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu in the standings.

The 18-year-old Chen landed two quadruple jumps in his short program at the opening Grand Prix event in Moscow, taking a 5.69-point lead over Hanyu going into Saturday’s free skate.

Two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia topped the women’s short program with 80.75 points (one tenth off her world record).

Full Rostelecom Cup results are here.

Chen’s tally — 100.54 points — is the second-highest short of his flourishing international career. It would have been higher if not for two of his three jumping passes receiving negative grades of execution for wonky landings.

The Japanese megastar Hanyu fell on his final jump, a triple toe loop, on Friday. No matter, Winnie the Pooh bears rained down on the ice from the adoring crowd, many of whom traveled from Japan.

Hanyu scored 94.85 points, one month after breaking his world record short program score with 112.72 points in a small event in Canada.

“Today I made some mistakes in my short program, but overall it didn’t feel bad,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union.

Hanyu, though he is the current PyeongChang favorite, has never won his season-opening Grand Prix event in seven tries.

Chen has now outscored Hanyu, who is four years older, in four of their last eight head-to-head skates.

Hanyu was better in the two biggest programs at last season’s world championships. Chen placed sixth at worlds in April, perhaps gassed at the end of his first senior season while competing on duct-taped skates.

In the women’s standings, Medvedeva topped Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy by 6.13 points.

American Mirai Nagasu landed a triple Axel that was called under rotated and fell on her other two jumping passes. She ended up ninth, two spots behind U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell.

In the short dance, two-time world medalists and U.S. champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani tallied 77.30 points.

The siblings lead by .97 over Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev going into the free dance.

Russians are one-two in pairs. World bronze medalists Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov by 5.49.

All of the free skates are Saturday, live on Olympic Channel. A full schedule is here.

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Rostelecom Cup
Men’s Short
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 100.54
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 94.85
3. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.77
11. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 67.56

Women’s Short
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 80.75
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA) — 74.64
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN) — 69.60
7. Mariah Bell (USA) — 63.85
9. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 56.15

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 77.30
2. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 76.33
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 71.32
7. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 59.41

Pairs Short
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 76.88
2. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov (RUS) — 71.39
3. Valentina Marchei/Ondřej Hotárek (ITA) — 68.48
7. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 54.37