Williams, Cunningham, Eberling win US bobsled push titles
This time last year, Lauryn Williams was getting into a bobsled for the first time.
Now she’s not only an Olympic silver medalist, but a national champion as well.
Williams — one of five people to medal in different sports at the Summer and Winter Olympics — won the U.S. national bobsled push championship in the women’s brakeman division Thursday, finishing her two starts on the wheeled track at Lake Placid in 9.56 seconds.
Katie Eberling, who’s transitioning from push athlete to driver, won the women’s pilot competition and Olympic veteran Nick Cunningham won the men’s pilot title.
"It was really inspiring to get back out there and be on the track and to win my first push championships," said Williams, who became a two-time Olympic track and field medalist before turning to bobsledding. "I think it’s really awesome to see all of the new girls so bubbly and excited about bobsled, and I really relate to that feeling since that was me not even a year ago."
Williams considered retirement after she and Elana Meyers Taylor won silver at the Sochi Games, doing so just six months after getting in a sled for the first time.
But she kept her options open, never making her plans to step away official, and now she’s expected to lead the push athletes on the women’s World Cup team this winter.
"I’m really looking forward to the season," Williams said.
Eberling finished her two pushes in 8.41 seconds, edging Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Greubel Poser (8.47) for the women’s pilot title. Maureen Ajoku was third in 8.72.
Meyers Taylor did not compete because of injury. She had won six straight national push titles.
"I think anytime Elana isn’t entered into the competition there’s an asterisk next to the win," Eberling said. "But it feels good to start the season with a win and to get back into competition mode after a long offseason."
Cunningham won his third straight men’s pilot title, his time of 7.93 topping Codie Bascue (8.00) and rookie Andrew Blaser (8.05).
Steven Holcomb, the 2010 Olympic champion, was fourth and Olympic veteran John Napier — who is contemplating a return from retirement — was fifth.
"As a competitor, I always want to win," Cunningham said. "We are going through a rebuilding phase with our program, so to come out here and start the season out like this and to see the depth of pilots is a great thing to see."
Napier isn’t sure what his future holds yet.
"I am back to enjoy myself and to spend time with the team," said Napier, who was in college at Lakeland, Florida last year. "I missed being around the team and the guys. This culture is a part of my life and it seems no matter how far I run away, it will always be near to my heart."
The men’s brakeman push championships are scheduled for Friday. On-ice training in Lake Placid is expected to start next week, weather permitting. National team selection races also start later this month.