Schedule of Events
The American bobsled team was announced this week. What is notable about the inclusion of telegenic lightning rod Lolo Jones is not the fact that she was selected; when she has competed with the U.S. bobsled team over the past few seasons since she bombed out of the London Summer Games in 2012, she has been successful. As a push athlete, she has helped win World Cup races in the recent past and has the natural athleticism to potentially excel.No, what is most notable is the fact that two former world championship medalists are not competing in Sochi, and their absence is directly due to the selection of Jones. Katie Eberling, who like Jones was formerly a star athlete in a summer sport (in Eberling’s case it was volleyball), has been one of the most consistent American push athletes. She has ascended six times to the podium in World Cup races in the past three seasons, and with Elana Meyers last year she took silver at the world championships. The year before that, they teamed up to take bronze at the worlds in Lake Placid. And now, instead of teaming up with Meyers, Eberling is a mere alternate.
At least Eberling gets to travel with the team to Sochi. Emily Azevedo, coming off a world championship two years ago in the mixed two-man race, was excluded altogether and will be forced to watch her teammates on television. Despite being more accomplished and more experienced on the sliding track, Azevedo’s upside was deemed to be less than that of the former hurdler.
But was this a conspiracy, as some have been quick to assert? Was NBC really pulling the strings silently in the background as the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation scrambled to justify the pick? Unlike the controversy behind Ashley Wagner’s selection over Mirai Nagasu in figure skating, there was no specific championship that had served as a selection litmus test. There was no result being disregarded. Picking the most well-recognized athlete in a field of three, while painful for the two athletes who get left off the roster, is not exactly rocket science for a sport that isn’t exactly rolling in money.
While there may be no conspiracy, though, this is also hardly a redemption story. While NBC wants to talk about Jones’ perseverance, it isn’t as though she’s returned from a life-threatening injury or illness. She hasn’t been in any scandals, she hasn’t committed any crimes, and really there’s nothing to redeem. Remember, Jones took fourth in the hurdles in London… it isn’t as though she snapped a femur on the Olympic track or anything. Her low point was falling just short of the podium, and if anything the teary aftermath of that near-miss has opened far more doors for her than a bronze medal probably would have in the long run.
Maybe Jones succeeds and gets the medal for which she’s long been pining on the sliding track in Sochi. Maybe she won’t — the team of Meyers and Aja Evans will have the inside track on the podium for the Americans, while the Canadian duo of Kailie Humphries and Heather Moyse will be favored to repeat as gold medalists. Also watch out for Sandra Kiriasis and the Germans, who will challenge Meyers and Evans for podium position.
On the men’s side of the ledger, the Americans come to Russia with the favorite in both the two-man and four-man events. The veteran team piloted by Steven Holcomb surprised the world when they knocked off Andre Lange’s German team for the gold medal in Vancouver four years ago. The win broke a 62-year Olympic gold medal drought for the Americans in the four-man race, and kept Lange and his team from winning a third consecutive Olympic gold after taking the event in Salt Lake City and Torino.
Most notable was the fact that, prior to surgery before Vancouver, Holcomb was rapidly losing his eyesight due to a degenerative condition in his cornea known as keratoconus. An experimental procedure, in which a vitamin solution was injected into the eyes and treated with light to strengthen the cornea, was the only thing that allowed Holcomb to get back into the sled. Without the procedure, which restored his vision to 20/20, Holcomb never would have been in position to help break the U.S. gold drought in his sport.Since then, Holcomb and his teammates have continued to dominate their sport. In 2012, on the track in Lake Placid, Holcomb drove USA 1 to the world championship in both the two-man and four-man events. With teammate Steven Langton he has won all but two of the World Cup two-man events held so far this season. And the four-man team with Holcomb, Langton, Curtis Tomasevicz and Christopher Fogt has taken three World Cup races so far this season as well.
With Lange retired, it now falls to Maximilian Arndt to try to displace Holcomb at the top of the sport and pilot the Germans back to their traditional spot atop the podium. Native son Alexandr Zubkov and the Russians, after reaching the podium thrice in the lead-up to Sochi, will have a shot at a medal. Look out as well for the Latvian team led by Oskars Melbārdis, which has won the last two World Cup races before the Olympics and is on an incredible run of form.
We’ll also get to see the inspiring story of Jamaica at the Olympics once again. Immortalized in the 1993 movie Cool Runnings, the Jamaican team has fallen out of consciousness in recent years after breaking the push-start world record on the Salt Lake City course in 2002. When Lascelles Brown immigrated to Canada and started competing for his new country, the team faltered, missing the Torino and Vancouver Olympics. But in 2014, they will be back on the ice in Sochi, thanks to crowd-sourced funding and the qualification of driver Winston Watts (who was Brown’s pilot in 2002) and brakeman Marvin Dixon in the two-man race.
For the first time in decades, though, it will be the Stars and Stripes favored for Olympic glory in both events. The pressure of being the front-runner didn’t play well at the world championships last winter, when USA 1 took only bronze behind the Germans and Russians. Whether they repeat as Olympic champions is dependent on a combination of skill and luck.
Bobsled Medal Favorites
|MEN'S TWO-MAN||Holcomb/Langton (USA)||Hefti/Baumann (SUI)||Friedrich/Bäcker (GER)|
|MEN'S FOUR-MAN||United States||Germany||Russia|
|WOMEN'S TWO-MAN||Humphries/Moyse (CAN)||Meyers/Evans (USA)||Kiriasis/Fritz (GER)|