LAKE PLACID - Canadian bobsledder Kaillie Humphries was feeling right at home on the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg on Friday and Saturday, and at the same time, American driver Elana Meyers found out that she is quite capable of battling toe-to-toe with the big guns in the sport.
Humphries, who won the 2010 Olympic women's bobsled gold in her home country, added another victory to her impressive collection on Saturday when she claimed the title at the FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships in Lake Placid. Meanwhile, Meyers piloted her sled to a World Championship bronze medal in just her second year as a driver.
After capturing a bronze medal in December on the World Cup circuit, Meyers joined rookie brakeman Katie Eberling to get to the podium again on an even bigger stage. The American duo finished third behind Humphries and German runner-up Sandra Kiriasis, who also has an Olympic gold medal to her credit.
Elana Meyers navigates Curve 9 of the Mount Van Hoevenberg track Saturday during her third run of the FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Championships. Meyers and brakeman Katie Eberling placed third.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Meyers first entered bobsledding as a push athlete. After winning a world championship silver medal with driver Shauna Rohbock in 2009 and an Olympic bronze medal in 2010 braking for Erin Pac, Meyers set her sights on being a pilot. She headed into the World Championships looking to put down four good runs, accomplished the task and then some. The Douglasville, Ga. native stood in second place after the first of the race's four runs, and drove consistently the rest of the way to medal for the first time in her second World Championship appearance.
"The Olympic medal still trumps this, but this is right up there," Meyers said. "To go up against World and Olympic champions and come out with a medal, I couldn't be happier. Today, I had two really good runs.
"With Katie pushing, and if I was able to have four good runs, I knew we had a chance," Meyers added. "This is just Katie's first year, she acts like a seasoned pro, and she's been great all season."
Eberling, a Palos Hills, Ill. native who played collegiate volleyball at Western Michigan University, just stepped into a bobsled for the first time last February. She found out about the sport through an invitation on Facebook from Meyers, who was searching for push athletes. And now, the 23-year-old has a World Championship medal to her credit.
"I saw Elana was looking for athletes on Facebook," Eberling said. "At first I laughed, but then I started to think seriously about it. I first got into a bobsled last year at just about this time.
"I can't say I expected to be in this position," Eberling continued. "When we were up on that podium, I turned to Elana and told her 'You're standing right alongside the best drivers in the world.' She was great."
Humphries and her brakeman Jennifer Ciochetti set the tone on the opening run of the race. They took the lead on their first trip with a finish time of 57.10 seconds and held on to the top spot the rest of the way. Humphries drove to another second-run fastest finish time to grab a .41 advantage after Friday's two heats, and then held off a hard-charging Kiriasis and her brakeman Petra Lammert on Saturday.
Humphries finished with a 3:48.57 four-run winning result. The veteran Kiriasis turned in the fastest finish times in the third and fourth runs to claim the silver in 3:48.90, which was .33 behind Humphries. Meyers and Eberling finished exactly one second off the winning time.
"This is a track where I've always felt comfortable and safe," Humphries said. "I learned to drive on this track, I've had a lot of runs here, the people have taken great care of me here, so I always expect to do well. But you also can't just go out and expect to win every time. The U.S. is amazing at the start and the Germans are great always, so it's a pretty big accomplishment coming out with the win."
Germany's Cathleen Martini, who won the World Championship crown a year ago, placed fourth with brakeman Fanziska Bertels in 3:49.83, and Canadian driver Helen Upperton and brakeman Shelly-Ann Brown finished fifth in 3:49.95.
Rookie driver Jazmine Fenlator also had a memorable two days of racing and finished in 10th place for the U.S. She finished 11th in December 2010 in her World Cup debut as a pilot, and completed her first full season at the sport's highest level over the weekend. Along with brakeman Ingrid Marcum, Fenlator turned in a 3:51.28 combined time.
"Ending up in the top 10 as a rookie driving in the World Championships was above my expectations," Fenlator said. "I'm really excited for my team with Elana and Katie getting a medal, and I was excited to be in my first four-run race. I could have done better, I made a few mistakes, but I'll just learn from the experience. Now that these World Championships are done, it makes me want to work harder to get better."
Bree Schaaf, a 2010 Olympian, was the third pilot in the race for the U.S. Along with brakeman Emily Azevedo, Schaaf drove to a 12th-place finish while battling numerous injuries. The pair turned in a combined time of 3:51.84.
The 2012 FIBT World Championships resume at Mount Van Hoevenberg Thursday with the first two runs of the women's skeleton competition starting a 9:30 a.m.