KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — When things were simpler, when Lauryn Williams was just a college student who wasn’t necessarily trying to win an Olympic medal but did it anyway, she would experience this sensation.
She would come to depend on it, like that old friend who is always there, and for years now, Williams has been searching for it. In 2010, she took a year off from sprinting and traveled the world. That was eye-opening, sure, but she would return to track and field, helping the U.S. team win gold in the 100-meter relay at the 2012 London Games by running a semifinal heat. Still, this sensation alluded her, and she retired from track and field in 2013.
Tuesday night, on a rainy mountain, participating in an event that she only had known for seven months, Williams found it.
“I got on that line and I knew something good was going to happen. Because I was literally ready to jump out of my skin, and that’s a feeling I hadn’t had in a while in track and field,” she said. “It’s good to have that feeling back, and I know what that means. That means going fast.”
The U.S. bobsled team is glad to have Williams, 30, who graduated high school in Rochester, Beaver County, pushing its top driver, Elana Meyers, down the track in the United States 1 sled.
Especially after Tuesday night, when Williams and Meyers used two record-setting starts — that’s Williams’ territory right there — to lead the women’s bobsled competition after two heats at the Sanki Sliding Center. The duo, which had only raced together once before Tuesday but was paired together to maximize the Americans’ chance at gold, posted a two-run time of 1:54.89, .0.23 seconds ahead of the Canada 1 sled.
“I did make some mistakes on the track, but I was allowed to because Lauryn, she’s a killer back there,” Meyers said.
Williams’ start times of 5.13 and then 5.12 set track records. In track, where she won an Olympic silver medal in the 100 at the 2004 Athens Games, she had short legs for a sprinter but made up for it with the power she could generate with the ridiculously high frequency of her steps.
She discovered a new use for her natural gifts in the summer of 2013 fellow sprinter Lolo Jones asked her to try out for bobsled. And now, Williams is in a position to make Olympic history today with two more good runs.
With a gold, she would become only the second athlete and the first woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic Winter and Summer Games. If she ends up with silver or bronze, she would become the fifth athlete to medal at both.
To this point, the only Olympian to achieve the winter-summer golden double is American Eddie Egan, who won gold as a light-heavyweight boxer at the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games and then earned gold as a member of the four-man bobsled team at the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Games.
Eighty-two years later, Williams is trying to do it again. Well, that’s not exactly true. She wasn’t trying to do anything but not get herself killed just months ago when she first hopped into a sled. Of course, she is trying to win big now, but not in the same way she would have in her sprinting days, when it was mostly about her.
“If I’m a part of history, that’s going to be awesome,” Williams said. “But the main thing is to help Elana get to that finish line first.”
Funny story, about the budding friendship between Williams and Meyers. In their first training run together in Russia, they wrecked their sled at the finish line because Williams didn’t pull the brake soon enough. If there was ever a time that Meyers should have doubted that her hopes of a medal were in trustworthy hands, that was it.
Instead, “That was a bonding moment,” Williams said.
“That solidified it,” Meyers agreed.
“She was emotional about the sled but she didn’t freak,” Williams said. “Everyone reacts to those situations differently, but she handled it like a pro. The fact that she wasn’t going to hold it against me, it was just awesome to feel that.”
First Published February 18, 2014 1:02 PM