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.”

Kelly Slater is trying to qualify for the Olympics at age 51

Kelly Slater
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On Dec. 19, 2019, Kelly Slater missed qualifying for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo by one spot. It came down to the 11th and final event of the season-long World Surf League Championship Tour in a tight battle with his Hawaiian neighbor John John Florence.

At age 47, it appeared that surfing’s Olympic inclusion came just a bit too late for the greatest surfer in history to take part.

Slater continued to enter the sport’s other premier contests.

He opened the 2021 season with a third-place finish at surfing’s crown jewel, the Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu. But Slater then missed half the season, citing injuries to both ankles and his right hip. It was a reminder that every athlete succumbs to age — even if few have successfully fended it off longer than Slater.

Yet there Slater was last Feb. 5, being carried out of the water, raising his arms in triumph after winning his eighth Pipeline Masters title, six days shy of his 50th birthday and 30 years after his first victory. It was his first title on tour in nearly six years.

That win — which Slater called the best of his record 56 on the Championship Tour — also meant something more. Maybe, just maybe, he has enough left in the tank to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Slater made just one more quarterfinal in his remaining seven events last season. Still, he finished the year ranked 15th in the world and, more importantly for Olympic prospects, third among Americans.

Everybody starts from zero points again as this season opened Wednesday with the first rounds of the Pipeline Masters. The top two Americans per gender in the season-ending standings in September are likely to qualify for the Paris Games.

The U.S. could get a third men’s Olympic spot — which wasn’t available four years ago — if it wins next year’s World Surfing Games team competition (Brazil may be favored). It’s unclear what will determine which surfer fills that potential spot.

If he could only have one, Slater would take a 2024 Olympic spot over another win at Pipeline.

He is trying to become the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing, shooting or art competitions(!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova (who was 47 in 2004), according to Olympedia.org.

“This will be my one chance [at the Olympics],” Slater said Saturday while promoting the upcoming season of “Make or Break” that premieres Feb. 17 on Apple TV+. “The next [Olympics] I’ll be 55 years old. I’m not going to be on tour by then. I did say that at 40, though, when I was talking about being 50.”

Slater, speaking on Wednesday’s opening day Pipeline broadcast, said he messaged Tom Brady after the NFL star announced his retirement (for a second time) earlier in the day.

“I don’t think there would be a player in the league right now that wouldn’t say that Brady can still win a Super Bowl right now, so it’s a hard carrot to dangle in front of yourself and not go for it,” Slater said. “I can relate to that after so long, but I love to surf, and this is the outlet for it, still. I feel that candle kind of burning out for me. That’s been for a while, but I think I’m just going to surf until it’s totally done, and I don’t really care at all about surfing a heat and want to be somewhere else.”

Slater is pumped for the 2024 Olympic venue: Teahupo’o,  a daunting reef break nicknamed “The End of the Road.” It is in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris. It will break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host city.

Slater won there five times on the Championship Tour, the last in 2016.

“It’s one of the truly great challenging waves in the world,” he said. “If I can get on that team, I feel like I have a good shot at potentially winning a medal or gold medal. If that were the case, I will drop the mic and quit right then, but, you know, I got a lot of work to do between now and then.”

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone appears in ‘This is SportsCenter’ commercial

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone appears in an ESPN “This is SportsCenter” commercial that was published Friday and debuts on the network on Saturday night, after she races for the first time this year at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on NBC.

In the commercial, ESPN (and former NBC Sports) anchor Hannah Storm asks McLaughlin-Levrone if she has a minute to catch up.

McLaughlin-Levrone replies by saying she has 51.46 seconds right after lunch, 51.41 seconds later in the afternoon or 50.68 seconds right now. The numbers represent the last three times that McLaughlin-Levrone clocked when breaking the 400m hurdles world record.

McLaughlin-Levrone is scheduled to race the 60m at the New Balance meet in Boston, which airs on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock from 4-6 p.m. ET on Saturday.

The commercial first airs during the North Carolina-Duke men’s basketball game that starts at 6:30 on ESPN.

In the last two years, McLaughlin-Levrone lowered the 400m hurdles world record four times, winning the Tokyo Olympics and last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon. She brought the record down from countrywoman Dalilah Muhammad‘s 52.16 from 2019 to 50.68 at July’s worlds.

The 23-year-old said after last season that she wants to expand by adding the flat 400m to the 400m hurdles, but she has not yet publicly committed to racing it at the next major outdoor meet, the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Eugene in July.

For the first time, McLaughlin-Levrone has a bye into the 400m hurdles at the world championships in August, meaning she does not have to race it at USATF Outdoors. That could make the flat 400m more appealing.

Past “This is SportsCenter” spots included Olympians Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and Kerri Strug,

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