Steve Holcomb, Steve Langton

Steve Holcomb, Elana Meyers win U.S. bobsled selection races

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Olympic champion Steve Holcomb and Olympic bronze medalist Elana Meyers began their Olympic seasons successfully, winning the first two-man U.S. bobsled selection races Saturday.

Holcomb, with Steve Langton, took the men’s event with a two-run time of 1 minute, 54.28 seconds. Nick Cunningham and Dallas Robinson were second (1:55.23), followed by Cory Butner and Chuck Berkeley (1:55.52).

Holcomb has a bye onto the national team based on last season’s results but competed anyway.

“I made a mistake the first time I had a bye by taking it too lightly and just going through the motions,” Holcomb said, according to a U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF) release.  “I didn’t feel ready for the competitive season because we didn’t rehearse race day.  Today we did everything just like a race.  It’s good practice since there isn’t any pressure to win.”

Holcomb and Langton were the 2012 world champions in the two-man. Butner and Cunningham were the second- and third-best U.S. pilots in the World Cup two-man standings last season and are favored to join Holcomb as Olympic team pilots.

Meyers, with Aja Evans, captured the women’s races in 1:57.21. Jamie Greubel and Katie Eberling followed in 1:57.92, and Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones were third in 1:58.60.

Like Holcomb, Meyers has a bye onto the national team.

“I’m a slow starter,” said Meyers, the 2013 World Championships silver medalist.  “I need some time to get back into it.  It feels really good to get race experience, because race day is different than a training session.  The adrenaline is higher, and you have to deal with the stakes-whether you win or lose.  My goal is to get better every week and to continue improving my driving skills.”

The fourth-place team was an interesting pair — 2010 Olympian Bree Schaaf, coming back from hip surgery, and Lauryn Williams, a three-time Olympic sprinter who won silver in the 100m at the 2004 Games.

Meyers, Greubel and Fenlator were the top three U.S. pilots in the last World Cup season. The U.S. will likely qualify the maximum three women’s sleds for Sochi. Evans, Eberling, Jones, Williams and Emily Azevedo are considered the front-runners for three push athlete spots.

Azevedo did not compete in Lake Placid but is expected to be on one of the teams when selection races continue in Park City in two weeks.

The national team will be named Oct. 26 for the World Cup season, which begins Nov. 30 in Calgary. The U.S. Olympic team will be largely based on World Cup results.

Video: How bobsledders train without ice

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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