DAEGWALLYEONG, South Korea — The only thing that changed was the context, and that made all the difference.
The first time Elana Meyers Taylor won an Olympic silver medal, she couldn’t sleep the following nights. She was so bothered by what had happened that she opened up her computer and let her emotions bleed out. “I need to write,” she began, and she talked about how she was “haunted” by her last run down the course, replaying the errors in her mind. She said she would be second-guessing herself for the next four years. She wondered whether she had “choked in front of the whole world.”
“How does it feel to have your lifelong dream slip away literally from your fingertips?” she wrote on her blog. “It sucks.”
Then, on Wednesday night, Meyers Taylor, along with her new teammate, Lauren Gibbs, won another silver medal, edged out by a pair from Germany. This time, the gap between first and second place was even smaller — 0.07 seconds — than it had been in Sochi. But Meyers Taylor, 33, was ecstatic. It was her second silver medal, but it was the first time she wanted to celebrate one — and as she did, her family and friends shouted in the stands, “Four more years! Four more years!”
“In Sochi, I felt like I lost a gold,” Meyers Taylor said. “Here, we won a silver.”
In doing so, the United States’ top women’s bobsledder earned a subtle form of redemption. In place of a gold medal, Meyers Taylor got something else: proof that she could perform as she wanted to, that under pressure she could make the calculations that define this sport’s minuscule margins. Competing in her third Olympics, Meyers Taylor has won two silvers and a bronze; the United States has placed at least one team on the podium in all five Olympics that women’s bobsled has been a sport.
“I won’t be writing the same blog” this time, Meyers Taylor said. “I am so proud. All you can ask of yourself is to go out there and give your best, and I truly believe I gave my best.”
Throughout the two-day event, Meyers Taylor and Gibbs were neck and neck with the German duo of Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz. They were the two most consistent teams. They went back and forth trading track records. The Americans boosted their runs with rapid-fire starts; the Germans had the fastest finishing times. In a competition with 20 pairs — with each taking four runs through the course — the Meyers Taylor-piloted bobsled and the Jamanka-piloted bobsled recorded four of the five fastest times.
With one heat remaining, the U.S. team trailed by 0.04 seconds. Meyers Taylor and Gibbs were the penultimate bobsledders of the night. They arrived at the starting line and shucked their outer layers. Meyers Taylor pulled down her visor and tapped Gibbs on the back. Then, they were off, hitting a speed of 82.1 mph. When they crossed the finish line, they hugged. They were in first place.
And so, they watched the Germans.
The crowd roared as they took off but then grew silent, looking at monitors near the finish line. At the first time checkpoint along the course, the Germans trailed the U.S. pace. At the second, they trailed as well — but more narrowly. They were off the U.S. pace by 0.08 seconds. And then 0.03 seconds. They kept building speed. And then, at the finish line, they were suddenly ahead — by 0.07 seconds.
“Incredible,” Meyers Taylor said.
“So much goes into that one moment,” said Jamie Greubel Poser, who piloted the other U.S. team, which finished fifth.
Gibbs saw the numbers and bent over, shaking her head. She seemed, for a moment, in a daze. But Meyers Taylor extended a hand. They hugged. They walked to the podium. They were smiling. They congratulated Jamanka and Buckwitz. They stepped on the podium.
“I just feel so much pride,” Gibbs’s father, Al, said.
Meyers Taylor and Gibbs are seven months apart in age. They both played college sports: for Gibbs, volleyball at Brown; for Meyers Taylor, softball at George Washington. But whereas Meyers Taylor has been a top figure in bobsledding for a decade — transitioning from pusher to pilot, pushing for gender equality in the sport and becoming a self-appointed Team USA bobsled recruiter — Gibbs is fairly new. Less than four years ago, she left a six-figure job to try the sport on a lark. She didn’t even watch the Games in Sochi.
“I’m sorry, guys,” Gibbs said, laughing, and she talked about how what it felt like being a silver medalist.
“When is a good time to tell my parents I’m maybe not going back to work?” Gibbs said. “Right when I won a medal?
“I ran out of words [for the feeling] like five interviews ago, but it’s pretty incredible. I recommend it to everybody.”
Read more about the PyeongChang Games: