By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010; D01
WHISTLER, B.C. -- The celebration began in the sled, and it didn't matter that Erin Pac and Elana Meyers had lost time on their final run in the Olympic bobsled competition. Three years ago, Meyers was searching for a new sport that might sustain her Olympic dream, one that would replace softball, in which she starred at George Washington University. Pac was completing the transition from brakeman to driver, but she was flipping between partners, searching.
Wednesday night, they sat in that sled at the Whistler Sliding Center, and Pac bent over backward to grab Meyers, seated behind her, delivering a thorough hug. If the United States was to win a medal in the women's two-man bobsled competition at the Vancouver Games, it was likely to come from the sled driven by Shauna Rohbock. Instead, Pac and Meyers staved off the top-ranked team in the world from Germany -- and, in fact, everyone but a pair of Canadian teams -- to win bronze.
"It's been so much fun," Meyers said, "and such a whirlwind."
In Canada, the gold-silver sweep by the sleds driven by Kaillie Humphries and Helen Upperton, respectively, will help restore some pride to a host nation that has, at times, seemed battered by weighty expectations. But in Fairfield, Conn., and Douglasville, Ga. -- the home towns of Pac and Meyers, respectively -- the unlikely story of how this unexpected bronze came to be is worth telling again and again.
"To be in this position in three years is pretty amazing," said Meyers, who had never as much sat in a bobsled before the fall of 2007. "After giving up softball, I didn't know what I was going to do. I thought I would try bobsled, but I wasn't really sure what would happen. I thought my athletic career was over. To be sitting here right now, it's nothing but God-inspired."
Not to mention shocking. The veteran Rohbock arrived here with the highest hopes, but she quickly became infuriated by the lightning-fast, potentially dangerous track at the Whistler Sliding Center -- the central character in bobsled, luge and skeleton since before the Olympics began. It was on that track that Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a horrific crash during a training run, bringing into question whether the track should be used at all.
Rohbock, the driver for USA-1, the Americans' top sled, called the track "stupid fast," and predicted there would be violent crashes at speeds of more than 90 mph. In Wednesday's third run, the sled from Britain driven by Nicola Minichiello flipped over. In the final run, the sled of Germany-2 -- the second-ranked team in the world, driven by Cathleen Martini -- also flipped, and brakeman Romy Logsch was ejected and left flailing on the ice.
"It says something isn't right when two of the best drivers in the world are crashing, and one is almost crashing, on each run," Rohbock said.
Whether she was spooked or not, Rohbock could not get her sled up to speed, finishing sixth, one spot behind the sled of USA-3, driven by Bree Schaaf. With Rohbock frustrated -- "It's not the Olympics I've dreamed of for four years," she said -- the American medal hopes fell to Pac and Meyers, who decided not to dwell on their worries.
"I pretty much ignored my family," Pac said. "I didn't talk to them, just because I knew they'd ask a lot of questions. My boyfriend was the only one I talked to, just so I could keep my head clear. Moms, you know how they can be. They want to ask a lot. I love her dearly, but I didn't want to put any extra pressure on myself getting other thoughts in my head."
Pac, somehow, was able to drive with a clear head throughout.
"Erin was great," Meyers said.
But Humphries and her brakeman, Heather Moyse, were nearly unbeatable from the start. They entered the final two runs on Wednesday with a lead of .13 of a second over Pac's USA-2 sled, and then extended it to .57 of a second in the third of four heats. Pac and Meyers still entered the final run in second, but they turned in their slowest effort of the competition -- 53.78 seconds, eighth in the heat -- to slip behind Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown.
Yet as they crossed the finish line, it seemed not to matter. Pac saw the scoreboard, with her sled in medal position, and screamed.
"I didn't know what was going on," Meyers said. "I thought something was wrong at first. It was incredible. And then I figured out she was screaming -- and it was a good scream."