- By Nina Hemphill Reeder For the AJC
Georgia isn’t really recognized for its winter sports scene — if anything, it’s better known for its epic meltdowns in icy and snowy conditions. But that may soon change, thanks to Olympic bronze and silver medalist Elana Meyers Taylor. The 33-year-old Douglasville native will race in the upcoming women’s bobsled competition in Pyeongchang, South Korea, making her the first American woman to compete in the sport in three consecutive Olympic Games.
She’s widely considered one of the sport’s best pilots, but just over a decade ago, she had Olympic ambitions in another sport. A collegiate athlete like her father, Eddie Meyers, who was a star running back at Navy College, she played softball at George Washington University.
Both father and daughter had aspirations of playing their sport at the highest stage. Though her father participated in Atlanta Falcons summer training camps, a six-year term with the Marines and later an injury eventually kept him from the NFL. (He’s now PNC’s regional president for Georgia.) And Meyers Taylor nearly saw her window close when softball was removed from the 2012 and 2016 Olympic schedule.
But determined not to let a family dream defer again, Meyers Taylor’s mom encouraged her to try out for bobsledding — a sport that favored her athleticism and body type. Within two weeks of that discussion, Meyers Taylor found herself in Lake Placid, N.Y., trying out for the U.S. national team. She would compete professionally in the same year and medal in competition the very next year.
“Maybe some of the Georgia Bulldogs will come up and give bobsled a go,” Meyers Taylor said about her role in exposing winter sports to a growing Southern audience. “It doesn’t matter if you didn’t grow up doing it; you can still be involved in a winter sport.”
Meyers Taylor says she’s already witnessed more Atlanta athletes try out for the bobsled and skeleton team since she picked up the discipline in 2007. She was inspired to join the sport by another Southerner — former Alabama track and field star-turned-Olympic gold medalist bobsledder Vonetta Flowers, who competed in the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games.
Not only do both women hail from an underrepresented region of the country (in terms of winter athlete production), both women are African-American, another rarity in the collective 15 Winter Olympic sports, where the majority of American competitors have historically been white.
“I think she paved the way for me, and I’m just trying to open up doors for people of all colors,” she said. “One of the most beautiful things about bobsled is its diversity. We’ve got countries from all over the world who are successful.”
And records and barriers be damned because Meyers Taylor’s influence on the sport doesn’t stop there. She and Canadian Kaillie Humphries were the first women in history to pilot a mixed-gender, four-man bobsled event in an International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation competition. In 2014, the IBSF, the sport’s international governing body, allowed female pilots to participate in the previous all-male four-man event.
“Men have an opportunity to win multiple medals at the Olympics. Why shouldn’t women?” asked Meyers Taylor about the previous structure where men could compete in both the two-man and four-man bobsled competitions whereas women were restricted to just the two-man event. (Neither Meyers Taylor nor Humphries is competing in four-man in Pyeongchang.) “Getting involved was part self-serving but also to show that women can do things just as well as men can. It has been really cool to see the growth of women’s bobsled and the growth of these opportunities. And, hopefully, it will further grow.”
With that, Meyers Taylor continues to steer her destiny toward G.O.A.T.-level stature that names like Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps occupy in their prospective sports. And she’s well on her way. The two-time World Champion has already taken several trips to the podium, including bronze- and then silver-place finishes in the last two Winter Games. The highly decorated Team USA bobsled veteran has amassed quite the career of wins and accolades, but one thing still alludes her grasp — Olympic gold.
“A gold medal is the only thing on my bobsled resume that I have yet to tick off, so obviously, that is the goal,” said Meyers Taylor about the ultimate Olympic achievement, which she and then-teammate Lauryn Williams narrowly missed by one-tenth of a second in the Sochi Games in 2014. “In the last two Olympics, it was all about the medal. This Olympics is all about the performance and putting down the consistency.”
In the upcoming competition, Meyers Taylor and her teammate, brakeman Lauren Gibbs, are heavy favorites to win gold. Furthering her favor, she has quite the supporting cast, fueling her gold medal aspirations. Her husband, Nic Taylor, a push athlete in the same sport, made the Olympic team as an alternate for the men’s team. According to Meyers Taylor, his presence in Pyeongchang as a teammate, soulmate and helpmate will be immeasurable.
But there’s more motivating her than just the support of her husband, parents and teammates. Meyers Taylor can feel the weight of a new crop of youth athletes looking to her for inspiration.
“It’s an honor to represent Team USA, and it’s an honor to represent this country,” she said. “If I can inspire one more American to go out there and be active or to accomplish a goal, that’s what I’m going to do.”
HOW TO WATCH
For the daily, sport-by-sport 2018 Winter Olympics schedule of events, go to nbcolympics.com/full-schedule.
To read about how to watch the Winter Olympics without cable (or a TV), go to myajc.com/living.
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