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

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source: AP
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.”

Luz Long’s Olympic silver medal for sale from Jesse Owens long jump duel

Jesse Owens, Luz Long
Getty
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One of the most consequential Olympic medals ever awarded is on the auction block — the silver medal captured in 1936 by Germany’s Luz Long, the long jumper who walked arm in arm through the stadium with Jesse Owens to celebrate their triumphs while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands.

Long’s family has decided to auction the medal and other collectibles from the German jumper’s career. Long was killed in World War II in 1943.

The auction house selling the medal has labeled Long’s collection “The Beacon of Hope.”

“The story of Jesse Owens never seems to end,” said Long’s granddaughter, Julia Kellner-Long, in a phone interview from her house in Munich. “My grandfather has always been inspirational and influential in the way I choose to see the world, and this is something I think the world outside needs. Now more than ever. It gives us hope.”

Long cemented himself in Olympic lore during the Berlin Games when he was the first to congratulate Owens on his triumph in the long jump. Later they walked around the stadium together and posed for pictures.

There’s also the story Owens told of Long approaching him after he fouled on his first two attempts in the preliminary round. With only one more try to make the final, Owens said Long suggested he take off a foot in front of the board, to assure he wouldn’t foul on his last try. Owens took that advice and went on to win the title — one of four he captured in Berlin — with a then-Olympic record jump of 8.06 meters (26 feet, 5 1/2 inches).

Owens was Black, and his stirring success at those Olympics was said to have annoyed Hitler by puncturing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

The camaraderie between Owens and Long, and the relationship that ensued between the men and their families, are often held up as the prime example of what the Olympics are supposed to be about — a peaceful coming together of people from different countries and cultures who set their differences aside in the spirit of competition.

“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me,” Owens said, years later. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace.”

The decision to sell came shortly after Luz’s son (and Julia’s father), Kai, died at age 80. Kellner-Long said the great responsibility of preserving her grandfather’s memorabilia should be passed onto an individual, or museum, that has the time and resources to do so. The family also wanted to use the sale to rekindle the story of Long and Owens.

“Even 86 years later, shining a beacon of hope is an important and realistic value, especially in a time of increasing racism, increasing exclusion and hatred,” Kellner-Long said.

The auction house started the bidding for Long’s medal at $50,000, and estimated the value at somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. The bidding runs through Oct. 15. The value of Olympic medals on the open market varies widely. One of Owens’ four gold medals from 1936 fetched $1.46 million. Bill Russell’s gold medal from the 1956 Olympics recently sold for $587,500.

David Kohler of SCP Auctions, which is conducting the sale, said the medal is about Long, but also “the story of the courageousness and the athlete and what he did there.”

Long didn’t live long enough to see his legacy play out. He was killed in 1943 in the battle of St. Pietro on the Italian island of Sardinia. Shortly before that, he wrote a letter to Owens, one he predicted would be “the last letter I shall ever write.”

In it, Long asked Owens to go to Germany after the war and find his son.

“Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we were not separated by war,” Long wrote. “I am saying — tell him how things can be between men on this earth.”

Owens and Kai Long met several times over the years, including at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1966. Owens later was a best man at Kai’s wedding.

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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