Profile on Olympic bobsledding Elana Meyers Taylor with the United States bobsled Team.
USA TODAY Sports
PARK CITY, Utah – Elana Meyers Taylor likes to joke that she needs to complete her set. With Olympic silver and bronze medals in bobsled, the U.S. pilot just needs a gold.
That Meyers Taylor is in the position to contend for one represents an accumulation of experiences as much as a testament to the people who have influenced her, each working to shape Meyers Taylor from outstanding athlete into world-class driver.
At 33, she enters the Pyeongchang Olympics in the prime of what has already been an accomplished career.
“Everything I’ve learned over the past eight years feels like it’s been leading up to this moment and like it’s been leading up to this year in particular,” she said. “I feel like I’m at the point where the only one in the world who can beat me is myself. And to go into the Olympics knowing that and feeling that, it feels pretty good.”
Meyers Taylor came to bobsled after the Torino Games with the encouragement of her parents, Eddie and Janet, who bought her plane ticket to try out. A former college softball player, Meyers Taylor got the athleticism from Eddie, who was a star running back at Navy in the 1980s.
She won bronze as a brakeman for Erin Pac in Vancouver before transitioning to the front of the sled.
For pilots, it can take eight to 10 years to develop since bobsled athletes are limited to two or three runs per day. To a large extent, it just takes seat time.
But Meyers Taylor sought to get better off the track, asking Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries in 2013 if she could train with her and Stu McMillan, the head sprint coach and performance director at Altis.
At the time, Humphries was the defending gold medalist from Vancouver, but Meyers Taylor figured she needed to train with the best if she wanted to get better.
“She stepped out in a big way for that one and really humbled herself in order to allow that to happen in the first place,” Humphries said, “which is part of why she’s a great athlete and what I respect about her.”
Both pilots say they push each other in their training. They do the same on the track, too, with Humphries successfully defending her gold in Sochi and Meyers Taylor piloting a sled with Lauryn Williams to silver.
They get together to train for a few weeks a few times a year in Phoenix, where Altis is located. Now close friends, the bobsled rivals even lived together at one point.
“If Elana watches Kaillie squatting 160 kilos then that might push Elana to squat 165 kilos. And vice versa,” McMillan said. “It’s a check on their own motivation every single day when they are training together.”
Meyers Taylor holds an advantage in her speed and athleticism. She’s the fastest starting pilot in the world and has won nine U.S. push championships.
“She’s probably the strongest female athlete I’ve ever seen,” McMillan said, noting Meyers Taylor deadlifts more than 200 kilograms. “She’s stronger than 95 percent of my male athletes.”
But Humphries, 32, isn’t far behind and has the benefit of three more years as a pilot.
For the past four seasons, they’ve been the best in the sport.
Meyers Taylor won world championships in 2015 and 2017, edging Humphries by three hundredths of a second.
“When we get to the track, it’s all about business and we want to beat each other,” Meyers Taylor said. “But it’s that kind of rivalry where we want to beat each other when we’re at our best.”
For Meyers Taylor, that’s meant getting more comfortable as a pilot and growing confident enough to correct her own mistakes rather than look to her coaches.
Often, she would turn to Steven Holcomb, the veteran U.S. pilot who had won three Olympic medals in his career. They would walk the tracks, talking about the best line to take or how to handle difficult team dynamics.
When Meyers Taylor won Olympic bronze in Vancouver, the first scratch on her medal came from Holcomb’s gold medal as they hugged. That perspective came from Holcomb and is one she carries forward after he died unexpectedly in May.
“He was an awesome person and he brought so much joy,” Meyers Taylor said. “Losing somebody like that and everything happening the way it did, you can’t help but have perspective. We love what we do. He loved bobsled too, but at the end of the day it wasn’t everything.”
Without Holcomb, Meyers Taylor is one of the more veteran athletes on a U.S. team that coach Brian Shimer said has looked to her this season to step into that leadership void.
“Elana as a person is just an outstanding human being and kind and don’t get in her way when she’s in a competition, no question. She’s got that killer instinct, and she’s out to win every race,” Shimer said. “But win or lose, she’s gonna be at the bottom hugging her competition and congratulating them for a job well done, whether they’re on the podium ahead of her or behind her.”
These days, her biggest competition comes from Humphries and Jamie Greubel Poser, her U.S. teammate. Humphries leads the World Cup rankings after winning three races this season.
Greubel Poser, a Sochi bronze medalist, has three podiums this season and won the test event in Pyeongchang last year.
Meyers Taylor medaled in seven of the eight World Cups leading into the Games, including bronze in the final competition with Lauren Gibbs, her brakeman for Pyeongchang.
“I know where she’s at. I was there going into Sochi, so I fully understand everything and how she feels about her ability and what she knows she can do and where she’s still lacking,” Humphries said. “There’s definitely room for her to grow but she’s come a long way and she’s going to make my life hell.”
Meyers Taylor heads to Pyeongchang with husband, Nic, by her side. Nic Taylor is an alternate for the men’s team, and he’s become a one-man support crew for his wife.
Taylor fills in to do therapy on Meyers Taylor, discuss push technique, act as a sports psychologist, handle most of the cooking and prepare her bobsled spikes.
“He does so much for me, and just having a partner who understands everything that I’m going through and who I can bounce ideas off of, it’s just really changed how I approach bobsled,” she said. “I think every year we’re together, it actually strengthens my bobsled abilities as well.”
Taylor has done more than metaphorically push his wife.
With Humphries, Meyers Taylor pioneered four-man bobsled for women starting in 2014 with Nic as part of her sled after the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation allowed women in the four-man competition.
“We feel a responsibility because of the things we’ve accomplished in two-man, but also something we really want to do,” Meyers Taylor said. “I love driving the sled more than anything. And driving a four-man is a whole new experience and it’s so much fun.”
After Pyeongchang, Meyers Taylor plans to shift her focus there – giving up sled time in the two-man event to push for women to be able to race four-person sleds in the Beijing Olympics in 2022.
But first, she looks to these Olympics where every experience and everyone who pushed her here might help her fill out her medal collection.
“I feel like that’s the big gaping hole on my resume is that gold medal,” Meyers Taylor said. “I really want that gold medal, but at the same time, life has a funny way of teaching you perspective, and I’ve learned over the past year more closely that it’s really about going out there and trying to enjoy the experience.”