Four-time world champion and Sochi 2014 silver medallist Elana Meyers Taylor loves nothing more than hurtling down a bobsleigh track at a ridiculous velocity. But there’s far more to succeeding than just nerves of steel: the discipline requires a heady mix of strength, driving savvy and fine-tuned equipment.
“When bobsled is going right – and it sometimes goes wrong – it’s the closest thing I could imagine to being a superhero,” said Elana Meyers Taylor, the USA pilot. “You feel like you’re flying. All sports have a zone, but ours is at 95mph. You can feel the speed, you can feel the wind. It’s the most euphoric thing I’ve ever done.”
Meyers Taylor’s enthusiasm ahead of PyeongChang 2018 is palpable, and her sport promises some of the most exciting action – and unpredictable results – of the Olympic Winter Games.
Bobsleigh will be held at the Olympic Sliding Centre, with two-man, two-woman, and four-man events. The four-man is technically open to either gender – and pioneering Meyers Taylor has previously piloted a mixed bob.
Crews consist of a pilot and a brakeman (plus two extra pushers in the four-man); medals are calculated by taking an aggregate time from four runs.
Speed and strength are required to shove the sled rapidly for the first 50 metres: as a result, many sprinters have transferred from track to ice. “My coach works with the likes of (Canadian sprinter) Andre de Grasse,” said Meyers Taylor. “I don’t have to run 100m, thank goodness! But we’re essentially sprinters.”
Once onboard, it’s down to the skill of the pilot to negotiate the fastest line down the track. Times are split to the hundredth of a second.
Key skills & top tips
“Bobsled boils down to three things – your equipment, start and drive,” said Meyers Taylor. “To win the Olympics requires all three. That’s why Kaillie Humphries has dominated the last two Games. In Sochi, I had the equipment and the push – but my driving skills let me down.”
The speed and strength of the brakeman (who sits in the back) and pilot, dictate the start. The right chemistry is essential.
“I’ve been testing lots of brakemen this season,” said Meyers Taylor. “We have six options but I’m looking at who makes me feel confident, who can take pressure and who is consistent over four runs. I said to my coach, if I have to lose every race this year to get where we want to be at the Olympics, that’s fine.”
When it comes to driving, Meyers Taylor has developed her mental approach with a sports psychologist. “I’m also always studying the curves of tracks. The winner isn’t the one who drives a perfect line, it’s who adapts best. You need to control the sled enough to not smash into walls, but also give it enough speed.
“I’m on the reckless side, and that puts me on my head a lot! Your face can be hitting the ice for half a mile at 75mph. It’s brutal.”
Meanwhile, kit tweaks are as essential as they are in Formula 1. “Technology is everything. We’re always changing things around and trying to adapt. Having the fastest sled possible is crucial.”
After winning bronze at Vancouver 2010 and silver at Sochi 2014, everyone expects Meyers Taylor to be in the mix this year.
“I’m determined to do better, but mostly I’m determined to produce a performance I can be proud of,” she said. “In Vancouver and Sochi, I left something on the table. I made driving mistakes in Sochi that cost me gold, and I’ll torture myself for the rest of my life about that! So my focus is to produce the four best runs of my life.
“I wouldn’t be the pilot I am now without the lessons I learned in Sochi, though. Since then, I’ve won two world championships and I’m more prepared for adversity. It’s the Olympics, and something crazy always happens, but I’m confident.”
Meyers Taylor sees the PyeongChang track playing a part, too. “I think the fact that nobody has had a lot of run times on it already means the playing field is levelled a little. You may see someone unexpected do really well.”
“Most impressive to me this season has been Justin Kripps of Canada,” said Meyers Taylor. “He was a really talented brakeman, and now he’s driving really well. You can never count out the Latvian athletes, and the Germans always have fast starts, great equipment and superior driving. On the US team, we also have Justin Olsen and Codie Bascue, who are both fast. Hands-down favourite will be Francesco Friedrich, though. I don’t even know how many titles he has won!”
Meyers Taylor is a huge fan of the four-man discipline. “It’s our sport’s biggest show,” she said. “The speeds you reach and the need for precision are on another level.
“It will be a really close race. There are loads of really quick crews out there with similar starts. The Americans, the Brits, the Germans.
“Francesco Friedrich will be favourite again, because you can’t ignore someone so dominant. I sometimes watch and think, I’d love to be in the back of that sled!”