For The Record

Issue 16 2015

EN / FR

Follow two athletes on their journey to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics

Elana Meyers
“Being a bobsleigh driver is the closest thing to being a superhero I think! When you are going down a track, and hitting your marks it feels like you are flying.”

Jazmine Fenlator
“It feels like you are spinning out of control but you are trying to stay in control. It’s like rolling down the hill through leaves.”

ELANA MEYERS

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Two-time Olympic medallist Elana Meyers was born in Oceanside, California, and raised in Douglasville, Georgia. A member of the softball team at The George Washington University, Elana went on to make a huge mark in the world of sport in a very different discipline: bobsleighing.

We catch up with Elana, who won silver at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in 2014, and bronze at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

“Being a bobsleigh driver is the closest thing to being a superhero I think! When you are going down a track, and hitting your marks it feels like you are flying.”

Elana has been bobsledding for eight years, three as a brakeman and five as a pilot.

“I grew up in Georgia, in the States, playing softball. I was trying to make the US 2008 Beijing team, but had the worst try-out in the history of try-outs! Catastrophic! I was 20, and felt like I was under immense pressure. I felt like this was the last opportunity I would have had to go to the Olympics.

After the try-outs I thought my Olympic career was over. I started school again and wanted to start medical school. My parents mentioned bobsled to me, as they had seen it on TV, and said ‘Give it a go.’ I literally emailed a coach, and got invited to a try-out at Lake Placid. I had to undergo physical testing – a combination of short sprints and Olympic lifting (power cleans and squats).”

Elana made sporting history when she became the first woman to officially race as a driver in the four man event in an international competition.

Elana’s first taste of bobsleigh:

“The first time I went down I loved it. It was crazy! When I got down to the bottom, I wanted to go up again. In the first week I knew I wanted to be the driver at the front. But I knew that my best chance was making it to the Olympics as a brakeman.”

“It feels like getting shoved in a metal garbage can and getting shoved down a hill, or being put in a washing machine and having it turned on.”

Chasing the Olympic Dream:

Elana began competing in bobsleigh in 2007, and made the national team in her first season. Her dream to compete in the Olympic Winter Games was realised at the Vancouver Games in 2010

“It was amazing just because it was an accomplishment of a lifelong dream. As we were in Canada, we had a lot of US fans. Being the US, we walked in just before Canada. The whole stadium erupted when Canada came on the floor in the stadium.

We were not expecting to medal as we were the number two US team. Up until recently, it was possible to have up to three sleds competing at the Olympics. We were the underdogs. We went into the competition with the idea that we would enjoy the experience and have as much fun as we could.

I was nervous but I was crazy excited, as when we competed it was the loudest and nosiest event I had ever been at. The atmosphere was amazing – this was the coolest thing I had ever seen. There was nothing that could compare to the first run. This made the nerves go away- when you realised you were competing for your country.”

Elana competed with Erin Pac in a race to win a treasured Olympic medal:

“We were in silver position until the last race, then the Canadians came through and took the gold and silver. One of my best friends was in the sled that passed us, so being able to stand on the podium was really special. We were so happy to have a medal. My driver Erin had a terrible hamstring injury, My driver Erin had a terrible hamstring injury, so she really put on the performance of a lifetime. I learned a lot from how she handled that. To share this moment with her was so incredible. An unexpected medal, especially one that was a second opportunity, was incredible. Bronze medal-winners are always so happy to be there, much more happy about this than my bronze.”

Sochi Olympic Winter Games 2014 – Bobsleigh without the sleigh!

For Elana and her team, the Sochi Games in 2014 took an unexpected turn. In a dramatic twist of events, the whole team had to pull together in a race against time.

“I was the driver in a two-man. Going in, we were expected to go for gold. I felt amazing going into Sochi. I had a great set-up with equipment and coaches. Everything was aligned. There was an expectation that we would do well. I didn’t feel under much pressure because I had a perfect plan!

When we got there, our National Federation decided to try out different brakemen. They were trying to maximise combinations on the Olympic track. I did six runs with my brakemen and then mine changed before my first heat. My brakeman was a two-time Summer Olympic medallist – Lauren Williams from track and field. This made things a bit stressful.

The first day of the Olympic training I crashed on a track that no one had crashed on and on a curve that I didn’t think you could crash on. The next day, my brakeman didn’t pull the brakes in time and we crashed into a barrier, going faster than we had never gone before, and then our sled shattered into pieces! The steering broke. Luckily we had a sled in the Team USA house for show which was there for people to take photos with. Our coaches went down to the sled and brought it up and scrapped it for parts and fixed our sled. They rebuilt it in a day, which was amazing.

My confidence was shattered, but it changed my perspective from winning a medal to doing the best we could. Lauren, a three-time Olympian, held us together through this difficult experience. At one point I felt that we were not going to be able to compete, so when they fixed the sled it changed my outlook on things.

We had a four-heat competition. For the first three heats we were leading. We set a track and start record on the first day. The last run, I made a crucial mistake at the top of the track and ended up dropping back behind Kelly Humphries (two-time Olympic champion) by one-tenth of a second.”

Despite setbacks which could have ended it all, Elana and her driver, Lauryn Williams, won the Olympic silver medal, full of praise for their team that supported them.

“I was heartbroken not to have won a gold medal. But at the end of the day, it was a huge accomplishment to come away with a silver, and a huge testament to the strength of my team, coaches and mechanics. Even a silver medal would not have been possible without the team behind me.”

What’s next?

“I am still competing and still driving; my next race is not until October.

Our International Federation has made some big changes to the sport: They have decreased the women’s weight limit, which eliminates some women and will also allow more athletes to compete worldwide. This will help smaller countries like Japan and South Korea to be more competitive.

My eyes are on PyeongChang in the two-man and the four-man. I will have opportunity to compete for both.”

Excellence on and off the track:

Despite being a two-time Olympic medallist, Elana displays ambition and perseverance both on and off the sporting field.

“I worked with General Electric (GE), a TOP sponsor of the International Olympic Committee, in the Athlete Career Programme. This was a huge help to me. GE hired me remotely and allowed me to do projects working from anywhere around the world. I have an MBA in finance.”

Good news for the bobsledding Olympians of the future…. As of Lillehammer 2016, both traditional bobsleighing and mono-bobsleighing are included in the Winter Youth Olympic Games!

JAZMINE FENLATOR

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American bobsledder and Olympic athlete Jazmine Fenlator competed at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. From collegiate thrower to Olympian and World Cup silver medallist in an entirely different discipline, Jazmine demonstrates what it is to persevere and chase your dreams.

“There are three aspects to being a good bobsleigh pilot: You need to know how to drive well, you need the top equipment and you need to have a good start.”

Jazmine Fenlator grew up in New Jersey, and competed at the highest intercollegiate athletic level in discus, shotput, weight throw and hammer. However, in autumn 2007, all that changed. Shortly after graduating, Jazmine received a call from her track and field coach, whose colleague had seen Jazmine during her warm-up, and had noted her as being a fast and explosive athlete.

“They asked me what I wanted to do with my athletic career. At the time I wanted to go to the Olympic Games London 2012, and had aspirations of medalling in a predominant European athletics competition. They suggested bobsleigh.

I thought this was a joke as I am half Jamaican and we would joke about the movie ‘Cool Running’s’. The first thing my dad said to me was: ‘Sanka, you’re dead mon’!”

Nevertheless, Jazmine decided to give bobsleigh a go.

“The first time I got into a bobsled was in October 2007, at Lake Placid. This is renowned as being one of the most difficult, jarring courses in the world. They lent me a mouth guard, helmet and gloves. All the rookies were taken out in a van and shown the bobsleds. We were then shown the body positions. The bobsled itself is made of metal and fibreglass, so we had to put padding in. We then went up to the top of the bobsled track and they said ‘Bon Voyage!’”.

At first it felt gentle, like it was swaying. Three corners after this, I felt squashed like a pancake. I had never worn a mouth guard before and I was spitting. I didn’t know if I was crying! The G-force was pushing me down and I was terrified that my helmet was going to fall off. When we got to the end I was breathing as though I had just run the New York marathon. I said it was awesome, though I didn’t know what had happened!

It feels like you are spinning out of control but you are trying to stay in control. It’s like rolling down the hill through leaves

It was an amazing experience, so I decided to go to try-outs. The try-out initially involved physical testing of combined exercise components in order to gauge my potential and suitability to the sport. The tests included jumping, sprinting, shotput toss and weightlifting. I did well, and they told me to come back in three weeks, after which they would train me for a week so that I might try out for the national team! They told me to pack for that training week as though I wouldn’t be going home for four months.”

Jazmine aspired to make the team as a brakeman – the person who sits at the back of the bob. The role of the brakeman is to slow the bob down at certain stages throughout the course in order to stop it from colliding into the sidewall.

“I tried for the 2010 team. I knew that it was going to be really difficult to make the team. To be in the pool competing for the spot was a huge honour. Unfortunately I didn’t make it as a brakeman, but I was selected as an alternate and kept training with the team for three years. I was just really happy to be part of the team!”

Those three years not only gave Jazmine a great taste of the sport, but also changed her aspirations somewhat. Jazmine decided to see whether her mental and physical skills from athletics would allow her to transition to be able to compete as a pilot.

“I started to pilot in the winter of 2010; as soon as our World Cup team was announced to qualify for the Olympics I switched. There are three aspects to being a good bobsleigh pilot: You need to know how to drive well, you need the top equipment and you need to have a good start. As a pilot you are responsible for all three aspects. You need a balance between the physical and the mental side.

There will never be a perfect race – you go 85 miles an hour and are often changing your steers by up to two metres. You also need to understand that you are part of a team – you need a cohesive team to accomplish the same goal. You need to let them do their job.”

Jazmine’s proudest sporting moment:

“Crossing the line in Sochi after the final run and waving to the camera and saying ‘Hi mom I did it!’

I am still getting over my experiences at Sochi. The slogan – ‘Hot. Cool. Yours.’ fulfilled what Sochi was about. Being able to see the natural terrain of the country was amazing; I really enjoyed having the opportunity to compete in Russia. The people and the volunteers were some of the biggest fans; the feeling when we walked into the Opening Ceremony was fantastic.

Competing was one of the most mentally taxing experiences of my life. I am extremely proud of my efforts – I hope to take the lessons I learnt to better myself for an appearance in the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.”

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