Baranek: Katie Eberling accepts alternate role on U.S. women’s bobsled team for Sochi Games
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org February 4, 2014 10:37PM
Katie Eberling (left) celebrates with teammate Elana Meyers after they captured a bronze medal in Eberling's first World Cup bobsled race in Ingls, Austria, in 2011. | Supplied photo
Updated: March 6, 2014 6:51AM
Palos Hills native Katie Eberling became an All-American in 2010 as a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Team.
But the true measure of her being ALL American is being displayed internationally this week in Sochi, Russia, where she’s serving as an alternate on the U.S. women’s bobsled team during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Stagg graduate and former volleyball star had her world turned upside down Jan. 19 when she was passed over for a spot as one of the U.S. team’s brakemen.
It was a bitter twist to what had been a success-filled three-year ride in which Eberling had grown from being a neophyte in the world of bobsledding to a world-class competitor.
Eberling was given the news in a private meeting with Team USA team officials in Igls, Austria, shortly before they announced Olympic track and field competitors Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams were chosen for the final two spots over Eberling and 2010 Olympian Emily Azevedo.
Later that day, Eberling and Azevedo were named as alternates and given a chance to travel to Sochi with the squad.
Azevedo declined, choosing to go home to train. Eberling, after a few days of soul-searching, accepted. Despite a decision that a lot of people think was the wrong one by Team USA, Eberling is staying loyal to the cause, serving as a team worker. She also is on call to compete if an injury were to occur to a team member.
She said her first reaction to being told she wasn’t chosen was an overwhelming feeling of emptiness.
“It was honestly one of the worst pains I have ever experienced,” she said. “I’ve dreamed about that Olympic moment for years and put every ounce of my being into it. In the moment I was told that it was no longer attainable, I was absolutely gutted. I was hysterical.
“I called my parents (Hal and Pat Eberling) shortly after and I wasn’t really able to say much, but it was necessary to hear their voices. My closest friend here is (men’s bobsledder) Steven Holcomb, so he was able to supply some comfort.”
Eberling said the teammates who were named to the team, reached out to her in a “respectable” way. She announced her heartbreak to friends on her Facebook page. The messages of support were countless.
The U.S. committee defended its decision, saying Jones’ selection had nothing to do with her celebrity status, but that it came down to the numbers that were very close among the four women vying for the final two spots.
“I knew down the stretch I had a few poor results that put me on the bubble,” Eberling said. “I have spent a lot of time holding myself accountable for all of this. However, walking into the selection meeting I still had hope because of my proven international experience and other parts of the selection criteria.
“I can’t say that I think they made a mistake. It was just hard to understand the parts of the criteria the committee was emphasizing when making this decision. Honestly, everyone selected and everyone not selected are worthy of being on this Olympic team. It makes choosing the team without controversy nearly impossible.”
Right now, all Eberling wants to do is help the U.S. team get to the medals stand in Sochi.
To her supporters, she sends her love. She’ll be all right.
“They saved me from a dark place,” she said. “They have also made me realize that no matter what my future holds, competing in bobsled was not solely about the end goal, but about the journey and all the people I inspired along the way.
“Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that. I’m looking forward to a big group hug when I get home.”