Getty Images

Katie Eberling at peace with bobsled retirement

Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic Trials, qualifying events schedule

In our final push testing camp in Calgary, I took a bad step which resulted in a leg injury. The prognosis prevents me…

Posted by Katie Eberling on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal rekindle record bids at French Open

Leave a comment

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal will play on the same day at the French Open through the quarterfinals, assuming each advances that far and the weather doesn’t wreak havoc. Each time they walk on the crushed red clay, the legends move closer to tying all-time records.

Williams, in her 10th bid since returning from childbirth to tie Margaret Court‘s 24 Grand Slam singles titles, battled and then rolled past 102nd-ranked countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0.

“I just need to play with more confidence, like I’m Serena,” she said of the difference between a 74-minute first set and a 27-minute second set. “I love the clay, and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding.”

Nadal, in his second major since moving within one of Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Slam titles, swept 83rd-ranked Belarusian Egor Gerasimov 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

“Six months without playing a single tennis match is not easy,” said Nadal, who skipped the U.S. Open and then lost his third match at his comeback tournament in Rome. “I had to stop playing tennis for more than two months, so situation is difficult.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Their pursuits are very different.

Williams is already the greatest player in history by many measures, especially considering most of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and some at the Australian Open without the world’s best players.

Williams has lost all four of her major finals since her life-threatening childbirth. But she is not the favorite in Paris, despite the absence of 2019 champion Ash Barty of Australia and recent U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka. Williams hasn’t made the quarterfinals at Roland Garros in four years and just went 16 months between competitive matches on clay.

She’s also battling an Achilles injury that affected her during a U.S. Open semifinal run three weeks ago. She’s spent most of her preparation time in France rehabbing.

“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”

None of Williams’ potential first three opponents have ever beaten her. Next up: Bulgarian and fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova, a rematch of their three-set U.S. Open quarterfinal three weeks ago.

Like Williams, Nadal next plays on Wednesday. He gets Mackenzie McDonald, one of six American men to so far reach round two, the most since 1998.

For more than a decade, followers have debated the greatest male player in history between Nadal and Federer (and now Novak Djokovic). But not until winning the 2019 U.S. Open did Nadal move within one Slam of Federer’s total.

Now, Nadal can tie Federer and pass the Swiss if he wins the next two French Opens (and Federer doesn’t win the next Australian Open).

Nadal is going for his 13th crown in Paris, as usual downplaying his favorite status. This time, he’s noting the cool, slow, autumnal conditions and a new brand of tennis ball that is disadvantageous.

“Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros,” Nadal said last week. “The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament.”

Federer is not playing after two knee operations. Nadal, who at 34 is five years younger than Federer, has the opportunity in the coming matches and months to tip the scales in his favor. And help deny Djokovic, who is 33 with 17 Slams.

Nadal is not one to engage in that GOAT debate. Turns out, neither is Williams.

“You can’t compare two people that are equally great,” she said of Nadal and Federer. “I don’t understand why people want to pit who’s this, who’s that? They both have spectacular careers that 99 percent of people can only dream of and they both deserve.”

Earlier Monday, newly crowned U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem rolled 2014 U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 French Open runner-up, next gets American Jack Sock, a former top-10 player now ranked No. 310.

Sock took out countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 for his first main draw win at the French Open in four years.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

World silver medalist opts out of figure skating Grand Prix

Elizabet Tursynbaeva
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Elizabet Tursynbayeva, the 2019 World silver medalist, said she will not compete in figure skating’s upcoming Grand Prix Series, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee.

Tursynbayeva noted in stating her decision that world ranking points will not be awarded in the series, which starts with Skate America from Oct. 23-25.

Fields for the six Grand Prix events, held on consecutive weekends through November, have not been released.

Skaters will be restricted to one Grand Prix start — halved from the usual two — and to the event in their home nations or closest to their training locations.

Tursynbayeva trains in Russia, one of six nations to host Grand Prix events.

Previously, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu announced he would not compete on the Grand Prix due to coronavirus pandemic-related travel risks.

Russian Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova, who announced an indefinite break from competition last December, is also not expected to compete. She is hosting a Russian skating-themed TV show but has not announced her future competition plans.

Tursynbayeva took silver behind Zagitova at the most recent world championships in 2019, a surprise given her 12th-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics. Tursynbayeva withdrew before her 2019 Grand Prix events, reportedly after suffering an injury.

Last season’s top skaters were all first-year seniors — Russians Alena Kostornaya, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova. The world championships were not held due to the pandemic.

Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

MORE: Orser reacts to Medvedeva’s coaching switch

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!