KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The United States’ top sled was in first place after the first heat, enjoyed a comfortable margin following the second and still held the top spot after the third. But the fourth heat is the one that counts most, and USA-1 lost ground to the top Canadian sled in each of the final two heats Wednesday, settling for a disappointing second-place finish in the women’s bobsled.

The Americans had their sights set on gold but still managed to win both silver and bronze at the Sanki Sliding Center.

Piloting the USA-1 sled, Elana Meyers became the first American woman to win two Olympic medals in bobsled. Her brakeman, Lauryn Williams, a former world-class sprinter, became the fifth athlete to win a medal in both the Summer and Winter Olympics. USA-2, featuring Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans, finished in third. Meanwhile, Canada’s Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse overcame a big deficit to defend the gold they won in Vancouver.

Meyers’ sled entered the final heat with just a 0.11-second lead over second-place Canada. The Canadian sled was the second-to-last on the track and posted a blistering heat time of 57.92, for a total time of 3:50.61. The USA-1 was next and needed 58.03 to win gold. Meyers and Williams got off to a fast start and but were shaky late in the run and reached the bottom in 58.13 for a total time of 3:50.71.

As the U.S. women's bobsled team looks ahead to the 2014 Winter Olympics, team members Elana Meyers and Aja Evans reflect on how their paths to bobsled intertwine. They say their previous athletic careers helped prepare them to compete explosively in bobsled. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

The USA-2 sled had all but locked up the bronze through the first three heats. It finished the final run in 58.16 seconds for a total time of 3:51.61. Greubel’s sled finished 0.90 seconds behind USA-1 but a comfortable 0.66 seconds ahead of the fourth-place Netherlands.

Since the event debuted at the 2002 Olympics, the United States has claimed at least one bobsled medal at every Winter Games. The lone gold came in Salt Lake City, won by Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers. Meyers won a bronze in Vancouver but was pushing then, serving as the brakeman for Erin Pac’s sled.

Meyers, 29, had always wanted to compete in the Olympics. But she thought she’d do it as a softball player. She played shortstop at George Washington University and tried out for the U.S. national team. But even after softball was dropped from the Olympic program, Meyer’s dream didn’t fade.

In 2007, she took up bobsled, and after serving as brakeman through the Vancouver Games, she moved to the driver’s seat this time around. Here in Sochi, she was paired with another cross-over athlete. Williams, 30, retired from track and field in 2013 with an impressive resume. She ran in three Summer Games, winning silver in Athens and gold in London. She thought her competitive days were over — but like Meyers, she discovered a new Olympic calling.

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The third American sled, featuring driver Jazmine Fenlatoro and Lolo Jones, finished in 11th place with a total time of 3:53.97.

The U.S. bobsled team now three medals in Sochi. Steve Holcomb piloted his sled to a bronze in the men’s two-man. Holcomb will try to defend his gold from Vancouver in the four-man this weekend.