Sochi Games: Final run costs Lauryn Williams, Elana Meyers in bobsled

Pilot Elana Meyers and brakeman Lauryn Williams fly down the bobsled course at the Sanki Sliding Center en route to a silver medal finish Wednesday.
(Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images)

SOCHI, Russia — They skidded and scrapped and careened from the history books into a scrunched heap at the end of a cold track.

Lauryn Williams and Elana Meyers stayed squeezed in their sled, stunned, while Canadian gold medalists Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse danced to the end of the stands to hug their families.

“Hopefully America will forgive me,” Meyers said.

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Williams and Meyers huddled against a fence before the ensuing flower ceremony, mourning, while the Canadians hugged and kissed and posed in front of them. A security guard, as if trying to ease the American pain, stepped in front of both groups and ordered everyone to stop taking photos.

“Any time you’re that close and you can taste it, and you don’t come down with the result, it hurts a little bit,” Meyers said.

It was arguably the most shocking, disappointing final minute of any competition in these Olympics. With fireworks raging in the background and headlines waiting to be written, the U.S. women’s bobsled team blew a seemingly certain gold medal Wednesday at the Sanki Sliding Center when its final run was its worst and allowed the Canadians to slide past by one-tenth of a second.

One cold breath. One chatter of teeth. One whoosh of a 400-pound tin can.

“It was hard to watch,” said U.S. teammate Aja Evans.

It was even harder to fathom, this compelling script ending so icily. In one dull skid, Williams’ chances of being the first woman to win a gold medal in Winter and Summer Olympics were gone, as was Williams and Meyers’ opportunity to become only the third and fourth African American gold-medal winners in the Winter Olympics.

All that remained was a silver medal, which is a wonderful medal, except when you’re one run, one moment, one-tenth of a second from a historic gold. It’s a safe guess that even the bronze medalists, the U.S. team of Evans and Jamie Greubel, would be sleeping better.

“I made some mistakes, and those mistakes cost us,” Meyers said.

They entered Wednesday evening solidly in first place on a fair sliding track where nobody entering the final night has blown that lead. They entered with the Olympics’ best female pusher on the back of the sled, former track star Williams, a tiny, powerful athlete who took up the sport only seven months ago. They entered with a driver, Meyers, having already won a bronze four years ago in Vancouver.

Oh, yeah, and in the final heat, they were the final group to race, it was moments after the Canadians put up their worst time of the event, all they had to do was keep it straight. Yet about 20 seconds into the run, they got a little crooked, and that was that.

For as glorious as the Olympics can be in its triumphs, it can be even more devastating in its defeats. For the entire U.S. team, for these entire Olympics, this was that night.

“At the end of the day, Kaillie beat me, and I have to deal with that,” said Meyers.

Long after the race, as the temperatures dropped and the center emptied and the wind swirled up bits of those ceremony flowers, the Americans continued to generously explain their feelings, and through this they managed to find some smiles.

Williams, who has won two Olympic track medals as a sprinter, accepted compliments for becoming only the fifth person in history to win medals in both Games.

“I didn’t come here to make history, I came here to help Team USA,” she said. “As long as somebody wrote in the record books that she did well, that’s enough for me; I’m not defined by that medal.”

Meyers said she could take satisfaction that her mistakes were not from lack of effort.

“It’s about going out there and doing everything you can to fight for your country, and I fought every single second of that run,” she said.

Even Lolo Jones, the converted hurdler and controversial addition to the team who absolved herself with the fourth-best push start of the event, tried to cheer everyone up.

“It’s a medal, who cares?” she said. “I don’t care if it’s a chocolate medal, it’s a medal.”

Yet for all but the final minute Wednesday, it was a gold medal. Then it wasn’t. And that is the story that will last forever, something that was made even more clear to the Americans when the Canadian duo pushed past them in the trackside interview area, giggling and hugging, nearly pushing the silver medalists over a fence.

The Canadians apologized. The Americans continued looking straight ahead at the coldest sheet of ice on this earth.

“It just slipped away,” Meyers said.

Twitter: @billplaschke