Olympics: Women's Bobsledder Elana Meyers in Vancouver
U.S. Olympic women's bobsledder Elana Meyers was online Wed. Feb. 17 to share her experiences from Vancouver, her expectations for her first Olympics on the bobsled team and tackling the Whistler Sliding Center's heavily criticized luge and bobsled course.
A transcript follows.
Topsail, North Carolina: The terrible and tragic death of Nodar on Friday - What were your, and the team's thoughts AT FIRST? i.e., is the course too dangerous? Then, after seeing and practicing on the track after the modifications, were your initial thoughts modified/changed or supported?
Elana Meyers: The unfortunate death of Nodar was a shock to all of us. It's a very tragic death and it shows how dangerous all our sports truly are. That being said, we believe the course is not too dangerous. Unfortunately, Nodar was a very inexperienced luger and that coupled with limited runs on this track, a dangerous and fast track, make for a tragic situation. I was very frustrated watching the women's luge and seeing the start moved down, as it essentially changed the entire race. For the U.S. women's slider- Erin Hamlin, it essentially cost her her medal. It's frustrating cause we all raced here last year and there were no problems, so the more experienced sliders will have no problem.
Georgia on my mind: What's it like to be a Winter Olympian from such a southern place? Hard for me to think of places that are too much more non-Winter Olympics than Georgia!
Did that provide any kind of a mental barrier when you were first getting started in bobsledding?
Elana Meyers: I've always been the type willing to try a lot of different things. Being a southern and doing bobsled was difficult from the standpoint that I had no idea how to handle the cold and how to dress in the cold, let alone warm up and compete in the cold- so it was a definite shock. I didn't even own a coat when I first started bobsledding! Mentally, it wasn't a barrier to competing, but I still can't stand the cold, but you deal with it in order to compete in the sport you love.
Washington, D.C.: What's been your best and most memorable experience in Vancouver so far? Is it what you expected the Olympics would be like?
Thanks! And good luck!
Elana Meyers: Definitely Opening Ceremonies. It was amazing to walk into that stadium and see the thousands of people cheering for you. It was so bright and brilliant and I loved it. To meet all the other athletes was also so much fun, and I've been enjoying meeting all of the other athletes since moving into the athlete villlage.
I had no idea what the Olympics were going to be like, but this place is amazing and my experience has been amazing. Also, the out pour of support from everyone nationwide, including all those here- has been inspiring.
Washington, D.C.: What's the hardest part of your job? And how do drivers and crew get together to form the different teams? Who makes those decisions?
Elana Meyers: Hardest part of my job is definitely dealing with the politics that come along with the sport. Our brakeman are basically "owned" by the federation, which means the federation decides who's on what teams. In other federations, they have set teams and the drivers decide who races with them, but in the US we have a more democratic solution. The Olympic team was chosen by a committee.
Arlington, Va.: Are the members of the women's bobsled team friendly with the men's bobsled team? And how collegial is the atmosphere among the different sliding sports? Is it hard to see other sleds as part of your "team" after competing against them the rest of the year?
Elana Meyers: We train and travel with the men's team- we do everything with them so we're very friendly and get a long well. All the sliding sports get along well, as we can each learn something from the other and we spend a lot of time together- our tracks are all the same. We jab each other about who's sport is better, but it's all in good fun.
Essentially, even though it's still team USA- we're still competing against each other. We're one team but individually it's still a race and we still want to beat each other.
Arlington, Va.: Elana,
The whole family and our friends will be rooting for you! We're all excited and very proud to have an Olympian in the family! Show the world what we Meyers' are made of! Buena Suerte!
Elana Meyers: Thanks Uncle Chuck! Love you guys!
Elana Meyers: Thanks Uncle Chuck! Love you guys!
Washington, D.C.: Are any Olympics fans doing lapel pin swapping either during the Games? Also, where are the mascots? I didn't see them during the Opening Ceremony or during the televised events I watched recently. Have you seen them around at all?
Elana Meyers: tons of lapel pin swapping! Including by the athletes and I am having a blast doing it- because it allows me to meet all kinds of people from other countries! The mascots are Quatchi, Sumi, and Miga and actually I haven't seen them around yet. Strange
Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: Hi Elana,
I went to high school with Erin (FHS '98). Best of luck to both of you! I'm looking forward to watching your races next week!
Elana Meyers: thank you and thank you for all the support!
Washington, D.C.: How much of Nodar's death do you think had to do with his inexperience and him trying to push his limits? Is there always more risk at an Olympics as athletes try to push even harder than they might usually?
Elana Meyers: Nodar's death, from what I've heard from the lugers, was greatly due to inexperience. Previously he had only raced one world cup (world cup is our highest circuit of racing and what the Olympic team is named off of). Our drivers drive the tracks the same whether it's trying to win a world cup race or the Olympic games. The track is quicker in an Olympics, but our drivers are still focused on what they have to do and trying to get down the track quickly and safely. All our drivers have plenty of experience. Pushing limits usually is the result of trying new lines in our sport, Nodar was not trying new lines, he just made a bad mistake on his programed line.
Arlington, Va.: Have you ever been concerned for your own safety on a sliding track? I'm not sure if you've ever been in any accidents before, but I'm sure it has to be something that you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis ...
Elana Meyers: Safety is also a concern in the back of your head, especially because crashes can happen at any time and on any track. One of our medal hopefuls this season had a career ending injury after a crash, Todd Hays, so you are constantly aware that our sports are very dangerous. However, in order to compete, you accept the risk- we all do- for the sport we love.
I've been in plenty of crashes! Some are not too bad- resulting in ice burn- others are pretty rough and sometimes, rarely- but sometimes people do get seriously injured. It's a risk we all know of and accept. If you bobsled, you're going to crash- guaranteed.
Froggy Bottom: You used to be a softball player at George Washington, right? How has the whole adjustment to a completely different sport gone for you? And do you think you'll ever love bobsledding as much as you did softball?
washingtonpost.com: From softball standout at George Washington to U.S. Olympic bobsledder, Elana Meyers makes the most of a change in course (Washington Post, Feb. 9)
Elana Meyers: Yes- I played softball at GW. The adjustment was difficult- first and foremost from a training aspect. Training for softball is very different than bobsled training- and I've only been training for bobsled for 3 years- I'm far from peaked and I'm in the Olympics! The team aspect of softball vs that of bobsled and dealing with the politics of bobsled was difficult, but all my softball experiences definitely helped me. I'm not sure I'll ever love softball as much as bobsled- it's like having children- you don't love one more than the other- you just love them differently- and that's how my love for softball is vs. my love of bobsled- two totally different sports with different personalities.
Genetics: How much of your competitiveness do you think you inherited from your father? According to a story last week in The Post, he was a big-time running back at Navy in his own right once upon a time. How much does that drive and knowing that he's behind you influence you in sports?
Elana Meyers: Huge part of my competitiveness was inherited- but not only from my father- my mother is a super competitive person as well- we all are! I tell people I'm my father in female form- his mini-me because I'm built like him and we approach life the same way- do a lot of things the same- I'm his little clone basically! lol My entire family is behind me- but they never forced me to compete and they'll love me no matter what I do- which is huge to have that kind of support behind you- it gives you the freedom to fail knowing there will always be someone there to catch you.
Most surprising part about the Olympics ...: What is it? And how cold is it out there? The way the media has been covering it, you'd think it was almost in the 50s ...
Elana Meyers: It is rather warm! Our sport will be fine cause our track is refrigerated, so no issues with us. But I hear other sports are having some trouble- but VANOC will work it out I'm sure.
Most surprising part about the Olympics is how easy they try to make everything and how helpful everyone is just so you can compete at your best. All season long for 3 years we're working out in garages, struggling to get by to compete, and once you get here people are bending over backward to help you- it's great!
Woodbridge, Va.: You guys are awesome! No way you'd get me in one of those things - I'm scared on the tubing runs at Snowshoe.
Anywho, how fast does that thing go? Has the paint ever caught fire from the friction? And, completely unrelated, do you think Bob Costas's hair is for real or a weave?
Elana Meyers: our sleds at the Whistler track will go faster than 90 mph- so it should be exciting! I don't believe the paint has ever caught fire- but there is quite a bit of friction when you crash and you do get ice burn.
Bob Costas hair is real- but you're never going to get me to say anything bad about him! It's one of my life goals to be interviewed by him- so hopefully that happens!
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: How do athletes from other countries view the hype and support Canadians (and Vancouver itself) are providing Canadian competitors? Has "rah, rah, Canada!" gone a little overboard?
Elana Meyers: I think that's a little normal anytime you're in a host country. The country is going to go overboard and go crazy for any of their athletes competing. I think some athletes are over it- but I'm not. If we were in the states I'd expect our fans to act the same way! GO USA!!
International focus: Is it frustrating competing in a sport that gets so much more love and attention internationally? And what's it like to travel all over Europe on the World Cup circuit? That has got to be a blast!
Elana Meyers: Definitely frustrating. It's such a great sport and I believe American audiences would love it- given the chance. It's not your money making sports like basketball or football, but it's fast, it's exciting, and highly dangerous- kinda like NASCAR which is one of the biggest sports nationwide. Traveling all over Europe is great, but nothing beats competing in the US on your home track in front of Americans...oh yeah and being around people who speak English! lol
Crashes! Wow!: What was the worst crash you were ever in? And how scary was the first one?
Elana Meyers: My first crash was scary just because I didn't know what was going on- I just didn't know what to expect. I actually kicked out of the sled (got out of the sled in the middle of a crash) because I was feeling the burn and was scared, but I was ok.
My worst crash was earlier this year, I was actually driving and crashed and my head was outside the sled. I ended up giving myself a concussion, but I was fine.
Vienna, Va.: What other sports are you into besides bobsledding? How does one even get started in the sport, particularly on the East coast? I can't even think of a place around here to practice.
P.S. Does the weight of team have much impact on speed? If so, let's send Rush Limbaugh down the track without a sled, I bet he'd break the sound barrier.
Elana Meyers: I love all sports! Naturally softball because I played for so long, but growing up I also played soccer, basketball, and ran track. I love watching track now because I know and train with some of the athletes. Of course- I wouldn't be american if I didn't say football! lol
Our home tracks are in Lake Placid, NY, and Park City, UT, so in order to start bobsledding, you have to go there. I saw the races in the Olympics and just sent an email to the federation and got a tryout- next thing you know 3 years later I'm in the Olympics.
Weight has a HUGE impact on the speed! THe more weight the better- but we have weight limits. 340kg max for women two man, 390kg max for men's two man.
Re: Mascots: Hmmm, so all three of them have dropped from the radar since the opening day? Coincidence? I think not! I know where they are and what they are doing and its disgusting! Your thoughts?
Elana Meyers: HAHA...I'd be lying if I said I wasn't confused. Huh?
Washington, D.C.: What is your goal for this year's competition, since this is your first Olympics?
Elana Meyers: the goal is always to win Gold. Even though our team hasn't won a world cup race, we are confident that we can win here. This track is a good track for us, as the start is super important and we're one of the fastest starting teams in the world. It's the Olympics, anything can happen, and we're going for it. GO PINK! GO PAC! GO USA!
Washington, D.C.: how long do you think you'll keep bobsledding? Is this something you can see yourself doing for another decade? And do you have any plans for when you retire from the sport?
Elana Meyers: I would like to bobsled as long as possible. My plan is to try my hand at driving- which will greatly extend my longevity in the sport- and allow me to go two, possibly three more games. However, if I'm not picking up driving at the level I want to, I'll be a brakeman through 2014, and then probably retire after that.
My plans for retiring after the sport? I have tons! But we'll see what happens...a major plan is to start a family of my own- but of course I think I'm a ways from that
Late changes: How much will the shifting start affect you and Erin? Do you think any teams will get a distinct advantage?
Elana Meyers: We won't be shifting to a lower start. Bobs can only go from the top, and we've all raced here before from the top. It would drastically alter our sport if they went from a lower start, which they couldn't do for the Olympics.
Woodbridge, Va.: You sure about Costas' hair? Don't get me wrong, I like the dude as a sportscaster and I think he does very fair/balanced interviews (hope you get one soon for a medal by the way). That said, his hair never seems to move and the color seems kinda suspect.
Oh, you guys should get some of those color smoke things (like a stunt airplane) and go blazing down the track that way. Instant Youtube winner!
Elana Meyers: haha- it probably would. but unfortunately- we don't have that kind of money either lol
New York, New York: Earlier you stated that it was his inexperience, but you went on to note that crashes are inevitable. If a crash is guaranteed, then shouldn't officials be prepared for this?
Doesn't it trouble you that athletes are blaming him, after all, you are all Olympians?
Elana Meyers: Officials are always prepared for crashes, but there's no way of preparing for a crash of this magnitude.
There's no doubt that the track is dangerous, but the different standards that allow athletes into the games are different for each country. For example, in women's bobsled we have the #10 ranked sled in the world that will not be competing in the games due to IOC and FIBT standards, but a country like Ireland will compete in the games because they're a small nation? From a competitive standpoint, you want the best in our sport to be in the Olympics and in this case it wasn't. Nodar, god bless him, was not the best in his sport. He was from a small nation that was allowed an allotment because there's no one else in his region to compete against. There needs to be more regulation on who competes in the games, especially when tracks are this dangerous.
Bremerton, Wash. - Home of Olympic College: Hello from not too far away. Can you get a message to your teammate Bree Schaaf that all of Kitsap County is pulling for her?
And I've always wondered if there was a strategy to who's second and who's third on the four-person Bobsled. Do you have any insight on that?
Elana Meyers: There is strategy to all of that, however, I don't know all the specifics cause women don't have 4 man unfortunately. Sorry.
Shifting from brakeman to driver?: How often to bobsledders make that shift? That sounds like a really cool all encompassing experience. You mentioned the crash when you were driving one time. How often have you driven outside of that? And how does one become a driver?
Elana Meyers: All our our drivers in the games this year on the women's side, with the exception of Bree Schaaf, were very elite level brakeman and just barely missed the games as brakeman themselves, so it's a common shift. Because push times are so essential, taking the person in the back of the sled, the main one doing the pushing- the powerhouse and moving them to the front will only make for faster push times and further drive the sport to new levels. It's exciting!
I drove last year at the end of the season and will do the same this year. I hope to switch to driving full time for next season. In order to drive- you go to driving schools and have a lot of coaches work with you- and then you go down the hill!
No question, just a comment: I really hope you win. It's been really cool following you connect here! Good luck!
Elana Meyers: thanks! I really appreciate all the support!
Elana Meyers: Well thanks everyone for joining me here today and for all your questions! It's been great hearing from all of you. Never a dull moment here in Whistler so it's on to the next adventure! Thanks for all the support and encouragement and be sure to watch us Feb 23-24 when we Go For Gold. Erin Pac and I will be in the USA TOO (2- but TOO as in Also) sled. GO PINK! GO PAC! GO USA!!
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