Two-sport athletes not named Lolo also after bobsled glory

Instead of driving softballs, Elana Meyers is driving bobsleds.  

In Sochi, an athlete who originally had designs on Summer Olympics glory will turn to the bobsled track in pursuit of the gold medal that eluded her in that other season.

Lolo Jones may be getting all the attention — as only Lolo Jones can — but the two-sport athlete that is far more likely to bring home bobsled gold isn’t the hurdler who made headlines in London. It’s a 29-year-old former softball player from George Washington University.

You could forgive Elana Meyers for resenting the spotlight Jones commands. After all, Meyers is the one with an Olympic medal (a bronze earned in 2010), something that’s escaped Jones so far in her career.  Meyers is the one who’s established herself as a legitimate contender in Russia after piloting her team to a pair of World Cup golds earlier this season.

But Meyers doesn’t see Jones as an interloper. She sees her as an opportunity.

“It’s definitely great whenever (star athletes from other sports) come in the sport,” Meyers said. “They put our sport on a different platform. They allow us to share our message. Hopefully people like Lolo will allow me to draw even more athletes in in the future.”  

Meyers knows all about recruiting athletes to bobsled. After all, she was once like Jones – an elite athlete, but a bobsled novice.

The two-time Atlantic 10 co-student athlete of the year had aspirations of making the Olympics as a softball player, going so far as landing a tryout that would have put her in the pool of players from which the 2008 squad would be selected.

It didn’t go particularly well.

“I totally crashed and burned,” Meyers recalled. “The worst tryout anyone’s ever had in the history of tryouts. It was that bad.”

That bad, perhaps. But that good for U.S. Bobsled.

Although her dreams of softball gold had ended, the desire to be an Olympian was still strong for Meyers. Strong enough that she listened when U.S. Bobsled extended an invitation (albeit with a $1,400 price tag) to attend a camp in Lake Placid, even as she herself harbored doubts that her athletic abilities would translate to the new endeavor.

“It’s crazy. When I first started, I was like, there’s no way these two sports collide,” Meyers said. “But there really is a lot that transfers over from a mental aspect. Softball is hugely mental, and so is bobsled. In softball, you have to fine tune your swing. You’re taking 100 swings to make little adjustments to get that much more power on the ball. In bobsled, you’re making little adjustments to get every hundredth you can.”

Meyers is far from the first athlete to attempt to transition from another sport to bobsled. Football players and track stars have been the mainstay of the U.S. squad for the last three decades. But now U.S. Bobsled is finding talent in sports that don’t appear on the surface to lend themselves to bobsled.

Katie Eberling is one such talent.

Eberling was a volleyball standout for Western Michigan University, setting a number of school records during her collegiate career. But unlike Meyers and Jones, she harbored no Olympic aspirations in her sport. In fact, she’d already begun job interviews and was planning – in her words – for adulthood when Meyers reached out to her on Facebook in 2010 about giving bobsled a try.

After an initial experience that she describes as being akin to “a trash can being rolled off the side of a hill,” Eberling discovered she had an affinity for the sport. A National Strength and Conditioning Association All-American at WMU, Eberling used those skills to win the U.S. National Push Champion title in her rookie season.

But she maintains that her volleyball background has been an asset as well as she tries to push her way to the podium in Sochi.

“Volleyball’s a bit unique,” Eberling admitted. “But they’re both very explosive sports. So I think that’s made the transition to bobsled a little bit smoother in that I do a lot of explosive training, short bursts of energy with volleyball.”

“Katie is one of those people, on paper she might not be as fast as a Lolo Jones or may not be as strong as an Aja Evans,” Evans said. “But she puts in the hard work. Her body just knows how to push a sled. It’s the craziest thing. There are very few athletes who come into a sport and just naturally take to it, and she’s one of them.”

So is Jazmine Fenlator.

Fenlator comes from bobsled’s more traditional recruiting grounds of track and field. But unlike the sprinters and jumpers that have populated the sport from Willie Gault to Vonetta Flowers to Jones, Fenlator was a thrower, competing in shot put, hammer and discus for Rider University.

But perhaps more important than Fenlator’s skill set was her drive. From an early age, she was determined to be an Olympian. Bobsled just happened to give her the opportunity.

“I think a common theme for all of us who transition to bobsled is that we grew up having an Olympic dream,” Fenlator said. “It didn’t matter what sport it was. Whether we grew up playing soccer or football, people on my team knew they wanted to be Olympians.

“It’s something that’s in you. It’s a competitive drive. You know you have abilities and potential and wherever that takes you, to push yourself to those limits and even surpass them, is where it brings you. And for a lot of us, it brought us to bobsled. We might not have been the best of the best in track and field, but you’re like, ‘Man, I still have something else to give. Where can I use some of these strengths? And where can I make some of my weaknesses stronger? What’s going to give me that rush? What’s going to put me on that platform?’ ”

The possibility of landing on that platform – and doing so in short order—is one of the biggest selling points the sport has to offer.

“Women’s bobsled is still relatively young,” Meyers said. “We’ve only been in the Olympics since 2002, so you can still come in and be successful rather quickly.”

That’s the pitch Meyers uses as she attempts to attract a new generation of brakewomen to the sport. And she’s planning to use it often. So consider yourself warned, all Summer Olympic coaches.

“Other coaches may not like this, but I’m going to try to take them for us,” Meyers said.