Former Illini Aja Evans wins bronze in women’s bobsled


USA-2 bobsled driver Jamie Greubel, left, and Aja Evans place third in the women’s bobsled finals during the Winter Olympics on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

By Stacy St. Clair

SOCHI, Russia — The first time Aja Evans took a run down the bobsled track — a sensation she likens to being stuffed into a garbage can and pushed off a cliff — she wasn’t sure she wanted to do it again.

Her mother insisted: Do not give up.

“She told me to fight through it,” said Evans, a Chicago native and former Illinois track star. “She told me I was in this for bigger reasons than that one run. And I’m so glad I listened to her.”

Two years after heeding her mother’s advice, Evans and pilot Jamie Greubel won a bronze medal Wednesday in the women’s bobsled. American teammates Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams joined them on the podium after winning silver, marking the first time the U.S. had won multiple medals in the event.

In taking silver, Williams also became just the third woman to medal in both the Winter and Summer Games. A former sprinting star who joined the sport only seven months ago, Williams previously won gold as part of the women’s 400 relay in London and won a silver medal in the 100 in Athens in 2004.

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“This has been the most exciting experience of my life,” Williams said. “I am so happy to have fallen into bobsled. Who would have thought six months ago I would be bobsledding, let alone on the podium at the Olympics?”

Americans Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones finished 11th. Jones, a two-time Olympic hurdler, joined Williams as the ninth and 10th American athletes to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games.

Meyers and Williams led the event after the first three heats, but driving mistakes on their final run cost them the gold. If they had held their lead, Williams would have become the first woman to win gold in both Games.

“We gave everything we had and left it all out there,” Meyers said.

“It’s about going out there and giving everything you can to fight for your country. We couldn’t be happier with that, and hopefully America will forgive me for letting gold slip away.”

Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries, who won the event in Vancouver, took gold again with four clean runs during the two-day competition at the Sanki Sliding Center, finishing a tenth of a second ahead of her American rivals.

Greubel and Evans finished a full second behind the leaders, but no one could have guessed it from the way they hugged and grinned on the podium.

“There’s no other feeling like it,” said Evans, who has been a brakeman for two seasons. “It’s overwhelming. It’s just bliss. This is what you work so hard and sacrifice so much for.”

After their final run, Evans sprinted to the stands and high-fived older brother Fred, a Vikings defensive tackle. Her cheering section included 10 relatives, most of whom wore knit hats with her name sewn in.

A former Big Ten shot put champion, Evans — who was also a sprinter at Morgan Park — plans to take a break from bobsledding and return to track to compete in heptathlon.

But first things first.

“I just can’t wait to take my medal home and show everybody,” she said. “I have had so much support, and that has been my driving force. It’s why I have a medal.”