After winning the Bronze Medal in 2010, Douglasville resident Elana Meyers upped her game and earned the Silver Medal in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. We talked with her for about 20 minutes after she got back.
Tim: First of all, congratulations on winning the silver medal! I know you really wanted to win the gold, but that’s still an unbelievable accomplishment.
Elana: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Tim: You’re welcome. It sounds like you’ve been really busy since you’ve gotten back. What have you been up to?
Elana: Yeah, I’ve been super crazy busy. So, I got back and one of the first things I did was I went to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and did an event there. BMW, because they build our bobsleds, brought a bobsled down there for the kids. They brought mini-bobsleds down, it was just such a wonderful event. That’s how everything started and it has just gotten crazier and busier since then.
Tim: When you went to Sochi, did you feel like you had a really good chance to win a medal, when you got there?
Elana: Oh, yeah. You know, when we were training, I was having really good training down times, and I really felt confident that I could nail the track and have the kind of runs that I wanted to have. Unfortunately I didn’t exactly have the runs that I wanted to have, but they were still good enough to win the silver medal.
Tim: Going into the final heat of the Bobsled in the Olympics, you had a slight lead, but the sled from Canada had gained on you in the 3rd one. Was there more pressure on you to try to hang on to the lead, than there would have been if you had been gaining on the first place sled?
Elana: I didn’t really feel that much pressure. I was just trying to go out there and execute, and do the things that I know how to do. Kaillie Humphries and I had been going back and forth all season. I finished second to her in our overall World Cup season. I knew it was going to be a battle between the two of us, and I was prepared for it, and I really didn’t feel any pressure. Unfortunately I just made a mistake.
Tim: Yeah, that happens. Was that your best World Cup season so far?
Elana: Yeah, so far. I was first or second in every race except one. And in the one I wasn’t in, it was literally just a bad 10 meters. It wasn’t a bad full run – it was a bad 10 meters that ended up costing a 12th place finish – for a bad 10 meters, (laughs) 10 meters in the WRONG spot.
Tim: That’s got to be agonizing if you hit the wall or something, and you think, “Oh man”. That’s just got to be a bad feeling when that happens.
Elana: Yeah. And especially in that part because I hit it in a straightaway, and when you are in a straightaway, and the same thing in Sochi, but when you’re in the straightaway it’s just like “Oh my gosh!” and you know immediately. When you have a curve and then another curve back to back, you kind of know “OK that’s not that bad, I can make up this time”. But when you hit it in a straightaway, you’re just like “Oh No!”
Tim: How many seconds behind were you?
Elana: It was a tenth of a second.
Tim: How far would that be in feet?
Elana: Oh, not much. That’s over four miles of racing, so, very, very close.
Tim: How long is the track?
Elana: I can’t remember exactly how long the one in Sochi is, but it’s 17 curves total. And it’s actually one of the longer tracks that we race on.
Tim: How fast do you end up going on a track like that?
Elana: I think we went 82 to 85 – somewhere in that range. I actually haven’t seen the down times in miles per hour believe it or not.
Tim: The first time that you got on a bobsled, was it pretty scary?
Elana: The first time I got in a bobsled, it wasn’t really that scary. I was excited. It was a great thing to be able to try, but scared wasn’t the word. I didn’t know what was going on, I was disoriented. But, I think there is a little bit of fear, any time you bobsled because you know something very bad can happen. The cool thing about bobsledding is I get to face that fear every single day. I get to look fear in the eye and say “Hey you know what – there’s the potential I could crash. There’s the potential this could be my last run ever. But I’m going to go do it anyway. I’m going to do it to the best of my ability”.
Tim: That has to be an adrenaline rush. I bet your heart rate goes way up during a run like that too.
Elana: Oh yeah – and it’s so much fun. I can’t think of anything more fun to do than to drive a bobsled. It is …I can’t even put into words. When you hit a good run, when you’re really firing on all cylinders it feels like you’re just flying, because you are gliding so smoothly. You feel like a superhero.
Tim: That sounds really cool. So do you like bobsledding better than softball?
Elana: I think they are very different. Bobsled, of course, is a minute, two minutes, and in the Olympics it is 4 minutes and then it is over. Softball, it’s 7 innings and there’s a different kind of strategy. In bobsled I have to know every curve, I have to react very quickly, and my adrenaline has to be VERY high for a very short amount of time. And then I completely crash after a bobsled run – like I am spent. It’s crazy. Softball games, are more like chess. You’re talking defensive strategy, offensive strategy for 7 innings, and you usually play double headers. So, it’s just two totally different sports.
Tim: Was the bobsled hard to learn as a new sport, or was it pretty easy?
Elana: It’s a hard sport for everybody to learn. Even though my brakeman has only been doing it 6 months, that’s more of a testament to the crazy athlete she is than anything else. When you see that you think it’s easy, but she’s one of the fastest women ever to run in the world. That’s just how great of an athlete she is. It is extremely hard to get the technique down. And even her, who pushed crazy fast in the Olympics, she’s got so much more potential. You have to learn how to be a bobsledder. And for driving – I’ve only been driving for 4 years now, and in order to really feel like you ‘ve got a hold of your sled, it takes at least 8 years, so I am still relatively young in terms of driving a sled.
Tim: How old is the oldest bobsledder right now?
Elana: I think Sandra Kiriasis, on the women’s side might be the oldest – I think she’s 38, but she is retiring this year. And Alexander Zubkov the double gold medalist in two-man and four-man this Olympics – I think he’s 39 or 40.
Tim: So, you’ve got a lot of competitions to go!
Elana: I’m definitely going in 2018. I believe I still have a good bit to grow in the sport. But, you know after that, I eventually want to have children sometime, so whether it happens before or after the next Olympics is the question. I’m getting married in Douglasville in April.
Tim: Congratulations on that too! Is your fiancé a bobsledder?
Elana: He was a bobsledder. That’s actually how we met. He bobsledded, and didn’t make the Olympic team, so now he’s back to being a track and field coach. Right now he’s a strength and conditioning coach in Chula Vista California.
Tim: I read somewhere that he had a pretty unusual proposal.
Elana: Yes, he proposed to me at the World Championships last year. I was on the podium – I got 2nd place – and he walked up to the podium in front of everybody and proposed.
Tim: Were you expecting that at all, or was that kind of out of the blue?
Elana: Not at all, because I told him NOT to. But I am super happy he did, because that was such a wonderful moment. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever had as a bobsledder and as a person. It was incredible.
Tim: I bet that was. Where are the Olympics going to be in 2018?
Elana: Pyeong Chang South Korea.
Tim: I know you are probably trying to take a little break right now. When are you going to start training again?
Elana: Probably at the end of April. We have our World Cup season of eight races every year, and our World Cup Championship every year. So, we’re racing every year leading up to the Olympics. We’re not just waiting for the Olympics to happen.
Tim: When does the World Cup start?
Elana: They haven’t announced the schedule yet, but probably in November.
Tim: How many hours do you train in a given week?
Elana: It’s a full-time job, at least four to six hours a day. If we’re not training then we have Sports Psych, or Sports Med, or whatever meetings we have, video analysis, and all that kind of stuff. It’s a full-time job.
Tim: It seems like you had a ton of support from the people here in Douglas County. Whenever we would post something about you on Facebook, there were tons of people that were liking the posts and commenting. Was that support helpful to you during the Olympics?
Elana: Well, it’s always helpful to know that I have that many people behind me, and supporting me. It really helps me to do my very best. And, it’s been huge for me to be able to have so many people behind me.
Tim: I know bobsledding is a very expensive sport. How do you go about financing the cost of competing?
Elana: It gets kind of interesting. So, I work part time jobs. I will go back to working part time jobs. Last year I didn’t because I was focused on the Olympics. I do different fundraisers. Anything I can to try to make money. I also have a couple of sponsors that I was able to pick up – BMW, Deloitte, and Devry University. I have to be creative about my resources because I can’t hold a traditional 9 to 5 with my training schedule. I have to find employers who are willing to work around my schedule. GE hired me last season to do some remote work, to write health and fitness blogs for them. Now, I’m back to being unemployed. So it’s always a creative mix to figure out how to keep funding this dream.
Tim: I’m familiar with BMW and Devry. What was the third one again?
Elana: It was Deloitte. It’s a financial services company, and the financial services provider of the USOC (United States Olympic Committee). Which really is cool for me because I’m a MBA student at Devry, and I am working in finance, so to represent a company that does financial services is pretty cool.
Tim: Yeah, that is cool! When you are off competing in the World Cup or in the Olympics, what do you miss most about being away from Douglas County?
Elana: The food. You know I have so many great spots that I go to eat, whether it’s Fabiano’s, or Yogli Mogli Yogurt, I love my hometown. I love the fact that I know where to get all the best food. I’m a foodie.
Tim: My son Dylan hosts trivia there every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday night. Have you ever gone to the trivia?
Elana: Really? No, I‘m usually in there for lunch because, you know, pizza’s not REALLY on my diet. But if I have it, I usually try to have it between workouts so I have time to burn it off.
Tim: That’s a good idea. You know, back here while the Olympics were going on, there were reports about bad conditions in Sochi, in terms of like accommodations. Did you run into any of that, or was it pretty good for you?
Elana: For the athletes, it was great accommodations. You know, 24 hours a day you can get anything you wanted, as far as food. They had different stations – Russian food, which I stayed away from – I’m not a big fan of Russian food, but they had an American grill – things like that, so we were perfectly good. No problems with the water, anything like that. Of course, I can’t speak for the media and what they were going through. They make sure, in an Olympics, that they are taking care of the athletes.
Tim: That’s good. Looking ahead, does winning the silver medal make you even more determined to win the gold medal next time?
Elana: Oh definitely. I think when you come that close to winning a gold, a tenth of a second, you’re so close you can taste it, you can’t help but be fired up for that.
Tim: Yeah. Are you going to do anything differently between now and the next Olympics, in terms of preparation?
Elana: I am sure there will be things that we will do differently. We’re in the debriefing process right now. We’re in the process of going over the season and analyzing everything that went well, and that went wrong, and hopefully BMW, because they build our sleds, will continue to expand that technology and get even faster in the technology sector. And we’ll have to analyze what I we’re doing with brakemen, and what I am doing in my training, and all that good stuff. Luckily I’ve got a great team behind now who will do that.
Tim: Do you like driving or being the brakeman better?
Elana: Oh driving. I control the sled and I control my own destiny.
Tim: I am sure you are a huge inspiration to many young girls (and boys) who admire what you have accomplished. What advice would you give to a young athlete that dreams of someday achieving that level of success?
Elana: Well, I think the number one thing is you have to love whatever you want to do. Find your passion and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. As long as you are passionate and have fun at whatever you are doing, you are going to be successful. The biggest thing I see also, with young people, is they don’t have the confidence to go out and try something new. You have to just put yourself out there and be willing to try new things, and believe in your abilities, believe in the hard work that you’re willing to put in, and just go for it.
Tim: That’s great advice. I know the other day you were at Yogli Mogli and you were raising money for a charity. What charity was it?
Elana: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. I just think that the work they do over there is incredible. I’d like to do whatever I can to help them. I have a couple of charities though. An organization called Classroom Champions and Right to Play are my main ones. I’m sure I’ve got other ones as well. But those are my three main ones that I try to do as much as I can for.