After motherhood, COVID isolation, Elana Meyers Taylor readies for bobsled competition
Elana Meyers Taylor was ready. The three-time Olympic medalist who was elected by her peers to carry the United States flag during the opening ceremony pulled on a red, white and blue jacket, white pants, red boots and a blue beanie. The only thing missing from the bobsledder’s ensemble was the flag she was meant to carry.
That accessory was instead in the hands of Brittany Bowe and John Shuster.
Sitting inside an isolation hotel, Meyers Taylor missed the opening ceremony because of a positive coronavirus test. She said she couldn’t imagine a greater honor than being elected flag bearer, but she watched on television as Bowe, a speedskater who carried the flag with Shuster on Meyers Taylor’s behalf, lead U.S. athletes into Beijing National Stadium.
It was only the latest hurdle in the star bobsledder’s path to her fourth Olympics, but after learning to balance life as a new mother and elite athlete during a pandemic, the three-time medalist isn’t stopping for anything.
The 37-year-old is set to compete in the inaugural Olympic races of women’s monobob, which begin on Sunday at Yanqing National Sliding Center. Meyers Taylor, the reigning monobob World Cup winner, is a favorite to medal, along with rival-turned-teammate Kaillie Humphries.
Competing for Canada, Humphries edged Meyers Taylor by 0.1 seconds to win gold at the 2014 Olympics. Four years later, Meyers Taylor’s two-woman sled earned silver over Humphries by 0.37 seconds. After racing head-to-head in two-woman bobsled, Meyers Taylor and Humphries teamed up to advocate for a second women’s bobsled event in the Olympics so women would have the same number of medal events as men.
It’s been a long time coming.
Bobsled made its Olympic debut in 1924 with a four-man event and added a two-man race in 1932. But women did not compete in the sport until 2002. Meyers Taylor and Humphries intended to lobby for a four-women event so more women could earn medals, but had to settle for monobob, a one-person competition.
Humphries, a two-time gold medalist who switched citizenship to compete for the United States after alleged abuse by the Canadian team, hopes the sport will continue to grow. She envisions both men’s monobob and women’s four-man Olympic events.
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“I don’t know if I’ll be around to see the work be complete, but the big thing is now that we do have those opportunities, the younger pilots knowing that this is something that’s worth fighting for,” Meyers Taylor said in a video conference last year. “To continue to fight for greater and greater participation among women and get those brakemen get more medal opportunities too.”
Meyers Taylor, a former softball player at George Washington, has made the most of her medal chances at the Olympics, winning bronze with pilot Erin Pac in Vancouver then piloting her sled to silver in Sochi and Pyeongchang.
Now back for her fourth Olympics, she’s racing for a bigger prize: to inspire her son.
Nico was born in March 2020. It was just a few weeks before the pandemic changed everything she planned for how she would balance life as a working mother.
The strategy was to go train and drop the baby off at his grandparents or go to mommy-and-me yoga classes. Then gyms closed. Meyers Taylor and husband Nicholas Taylor — another U.S. bobsledder — started ordering home gym equipment. Nico joined them in the gym sometimes. The family also needed to make sure Nico, who was born with Down syndrome, could get necessary therapy.
The regimented routine of a professional athlete was gone. Instead, every day was a “piecemeal” of moving parts.
“One of the biggest things I’ve learned is just how to take things as they come,” Meyers Taylor said. “And as any parent knows, just have a lot of patience.”
The family of three traveled to Beijing. Nico, now nearly 2, is still breastfeeding. That made isolation even harder for the working mom.
Meyers Taylor tested positive for the coronavirus two days after arriving in Beijing. She had to isolate from her family and get her breastmilk delivered to Nico by hotel staff. While other pilots got to test the track during unofficial trainings, Meyers Taylor was lifting a barbell and doing short sprints in her isolation hotel room. She anxiously counted days on the calendar as she waited for two consecutive negative tests.
“It wasn’t ideal definitely, not the greatest, particularly because this is a very technically challenging track,” Meyers Taylor said after training this week. “There’s some really great competitors from top to bottom. You can see from the timesheet that some people have figured it out more than others. But it is what it is. I’m going to do the best with it I can, make the most of it.”
Meyers Taylor, who was cleared to compete on Feb. 5, but didn’t fully leave isolation until Feb. 9 when her whole family tested negative, made the most of her solo opening ceremony by adding a small U.S. flag to her outfit as she watched on TV. She dressed in a unique royal blue jacket designed for the U.S. flag bearers. Other U.S. athletes wore navy jackets and Meyers Taylor maximized that opportunity too. She put it up for auction to benefit the National Down Syndrome Society.
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