SOCHI, Russia — No one would ever accuse the U.S. bobsled team of being predictable.
The federation surprised many Saturday when it announced top pilot Elana Meyers would compete with sprinter-turner-brakeman Lauryn Williams. The move broke up the yearlong partnership between Meyers and Chicago’s Aja Evans, who won five medals together on the World Cup Circuit this season.
Meyers and Williams have only raced together once, finishing second in Lake Placid in November.
By being paired with the team’s best driver, Williams was afforded her best shot at becoming only the second athlete — and first woman — to win gold in both the winter and summer Games. The only person to accomplish this feat is Eddie Eagan, who won boxing gold in 1920 and four-man bobsled gold in 1932.
Williams won gold as part of the women’s 400 relay team in London and won a silver medal in the 100 meter in Athens in 2004. She began bobsledding earlier this year and won three medals on the World Cup circuit in her rookie season.
The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation made its unexpected decision after two days of unofficial training at the Sanki Sliding Center. The federation said it evaluated start times during those practices runs and decided the course complimented Williams’ speed.
“One of the unique things about the sport of bobsled is that every track and every start is different,” federation CEO Darrin Steele said in a statement to the Tribune. “We have the luxury of aligning the optimal combinations due to our amazing depth of push athletes. Some tracks are going to favor the explosive acceleration that Aja provides and others that will favor the higher top end speed that Lauryn can offer.
“When races come down to hundredths of a second, you have to optimize the combinations for the Olympic track, which slightly favors the Meyers/Williams combination. Aja and Jamie also have a history of success, so I’m excited these teams compete. All three teams have the ability to get on the podium.”
Evans, a former University of Illinois track and field star, had been considered the team’s top brakeman since she and Meyers won silver at the Olympic test event last year. She will race with Jamie Greubel with whom she has not raced this season. The duo partnered together a few times during the 2012-13 season.
Greubel is ranked No. 3 in the world, thanks in part to her three World Cup medals this season with brakeman Katie Eberling of Palos Hills. Eberling — the reigning world silver medalist — was passed over for the Olympic team last month in favor of track star Lolo Jones.
Jones, as expected, will compete in the U.S. team’s third sled with pilot Jazmine Fenlator, ranked No. 7 in the firstname.lastname@example.org