KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — The Sochi Olympics women's bobsled race had to end the way it did, with this season's top two pilots seeking gold and history, with drama accompanying every twist and turn until the final sled crossed the finish line.
Canada's Kaillie Humphries, the 2013-14 overall World Cup points champion, was the second to last sled off the hill in the fourth and final heat — and going for her second consecutive Olympics gold medal.
The USA's Elana Meyers, who finished one point behind Humphries, went last, with her brakeman Lauryn Williams trying to become just the second person to win gold medals in the Summer and Winter Olympics in different disciplines.
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Humphries and Meyers are competitors and friends. They worked out together last summer, knowing the only way to improve was to push each other.
On the fourth and final run Wednesday, Humphries put together her second outstanding effort of the night, finishing in 57.92, making up a .11 deficit and edging Meyers by .10 for gold, becoming the first woman to win two bobsled golds since the sport joined the Olympic program in 2002.
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USA-2 pilot Jamie Greubel and brakeman Aja Evans secured bronze in what turned into a three-sled race after the first two heats on Tuesday and a two-sled race after the third heat on Wednesday.
Humphries turned the final heat into a showdown. In fact, when the two worked out last summer, they called it a "Battle Royale." Humphries chopped a .23 second deficit after two heats into a .12 second deficit with one heat left.
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Meyers had a great push in the third heat, tying her start record (5.12 seconds on this track). But she had a bumpy drive — her worst heat of the race — and needed a stellar ride in the fourth heat to secure gold.
She didn't get it.
"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. "But at the end of the day, I'm super elated for this medal."
This is the first time the USA had two sleds win medals, and Williams is still part of Olympic history. She is just the fifth person to win Winter and Summer Olympics medals in different disciplines.
"I didn't come here to make history," Williams said. "I came here to help Team USA, and I felt I did the best I could to help Team USA. It wasn't about history for me."
The third U.S. sled, pilot Jazmine Fenlator and brakeman Lolo Jones, finished 11th.
"It's such an incredible feeling," Greubel said. "If you had asked me this for years ago if I thought I would be an Olympic medalist here, I don't think I would have believed you. Wow, to cross that finish line and know that our families are here and we did it together is just such an incredible feeling."
The bobsled medals were the 22nd and 23rd for the USA, which led the overall medal count. The Americans had one more medal than Russia and Netherlands.
Earlier in the day, U.S. skier Ted Ligety won gold in the men's giant slalom. The U.S. team has won at least one medal every day in Sochi. Only three nations (Germany, Soviet Union and East Germany) have accomplished that feat at the Winter Olympic Games.
Even though Meyers had a .23 second lead heading into the final two heats, she didn't lose gold. Humphries won it. Meyers had the advantage with the push at the start; Humphries had near-perfect drives on her final two heats.
"At the end of the day, Kaillie beat me. I have to deal with that," Meyers said. "I have to go back and train even harder. We've been battling back and forth all year. It's been super fun to have that competition. She got the best of me now, but we'll see in four years."
The United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation is having a fantastic Olympics, winning five medals — at least one in every discipline — and the men's four-man team is favored to claim a medal on Sunday.
"It's been an evolution, and there's no one thing," USBSF CEO Darrin Steele said. "Setting high expectations, and it starts with recruiting. You have to have the right coaches. You have to give them the resources and the tools to win. The formula has worked."
Steele and his staff were criticized in the last month — one for putting Jones, the track star, on the Olympic team instead of Katie Eberling, and then pairing Williams with Meyers instead of Evans, who had five podium finishes (three golds, two silvers) in six World Cup races with Meyers.
"There's tough decisions that you make," Steele said. "When athletes are this good and you start splitting hairs to make decisions, you don't get the 'I told you so moment.' It's never that cut and dried."
He had to deal with Eberling's disappointment, and Evans wondered at first why she wasn't paired with Meyers after strong results.
"For some reason this team, this sport likes dramatic effect up to the last minute," Evans said. "It was weird. It was a little hard to understand at first. But (Jamie) is the first driver I slid with. I had a lot of faith in her, and I knew that we would succeed.
"I'm excited just as if I've won a gold."
Williams turned out to be a fantastic Olympic story.
The surprise was Williams' spot on Meyers' sled and her shot at Olympic history. Williams didn't take her first bobsled run until July — "What did I get myself into?" she wondered — and had to rely on teammates to help her learn the sport, the same teammates who wanted the same Olympic spot Williams wanted.
"The other brakemen had to teach me even though I'm the competition," Williams said.
If Williams didn't make the Olympic team, her dreams wouldn't have been crushed. But she quickly became one of the best push athletes in the world and is now in rare Olympic company.
"She's like a Jesse Owens. I hope she just inspired a country," Jones said. "I hope she's everywhere when I get back to the U.S. I hope she's a household name. I hope people know that her transformation was the most brilliant things I've ever watched."
Williams isn't sure she wants to continue her bobsled career.
"After 10 years of professional sports, it's time for me to move on to something else," she said. "Waking up every day and going to the gym … if I'm not going to put my heart and soul into that, I don't want to do anything mediocre."
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