Sylvia Hoffman piloting her way down new course
Olympic bronze medalist makes her debut as pilot in monobob during North American Cup stop in Park City
In February, bobsledder Sylvia Hoffman completed her journey from appearing on a television show called “The Next Olympic Hopeful” to winning a bronze medal when she and pilot Elana Meyers Taylor finished third in the two-woman event in Beijing.
Now, she’s embarking on a new quest: transitioning to piloting the sled herself. Hoffman scored her first two medals as a pilot on Friday and Saturday at the Utah Olympic Park with two fifth-place finishes in two women’s monobob North American Cup events. Hoffman said she’ll be piloting in the two-woman bobsled races on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I’ve been waiting to race in any capacity as a pilot for the last four years,” Hoffman said after Saturday’s race. “I finally get my chance my fifth year in the sport of bobsled, so I’m really happy about that. Coming here to Park City is literally about just getting out there, having fun, getting trips and just doing the best that I can, taking it one step at a time. I’m a development pilot, my skills are going to come with my trips. I was able to get as many trips as I could in the two-woman’s sled, and then I jumped into monobob, like, the last day of training.”
Hoffman played college basketball at Louisiana State University Shreveport and later chased her Olympic dreams in weightlifting before eventually making it to the Games in bobsled. She teamed up with Meyers Taylor in Beijing, and the two flourished, especially at the start. They had the fastest start time in every run, including an electrifying 5.3-second start in the third run that was their fastest of the four. With the experienced Meyers Taylor piloting the sled, they finished third.
After the Games, instead of going home, taking some time off and seeing friends and family, Hoffman returned to Lake Placid, New York. She said she spent the month of March just driving bobsleds.
But Hoffman is now piloting her own path, and it started in Park City. Hoffman had the fastest start times in both runs of each day, which helped her finish fifth both days.
There’s nowhere to hide in women’s monobob, where there’s only one woman in the sled compared to the two-woman event. If anything went wrong during her run, Hoffman couldn’t blame anyone but herself. While most of Hoffman’s athletic background is in team sports, she said her weightlifting days helped her prepare for competing in an individual sport again.
“It really highlights the athlete and their capacity and their capabilities of doing really well on a performance level,” Hoffman said. “You can’t hide the performance because it is based off of you and how much you want to learn, how fast you can learn, can you pick up the skills?”
Hoffman said transitioning to piloting was always in the cards. She started “doing some piloting things” and studying in the last couple of years so that the transition wouldn’t be too overwhelming. It turns out a lot of what she did previously comes in handy as a pilot.
“I like to set myself up for success,” she said. “I think that, with everything that I tried to do as a brakewoman — study the tracks, walk the tracks, learn them, listen to the coaches when they’re talking about lines to our most experienced pilots out there and just understanding what needs to happen when — I think that helped my transition so much better going into this year.”
Fellow American bobsledder Lauren Brzozowski had her own feel-good story during the North American Cup stops in Park City. During the previous stop in Whistler earlier this month, Brzozowski suffered a crash that she said was probably the worst in her career. She was still feeling the effects of it in Park City.
“I’m still so bruised up,” Brzozowski said. “I think my tailbone is bruised, my elbows and just everything hurts. Crashing is part of the sport, and I think it’s a true confession of character in how you come back from crashes and keep pushing.”
Brzozowski came back strong and tied for first place on Friday. She couldn’t repeat the feat on Saturday after coming in fourth, but she’s excited to get the chance to go home and show off a couple of medals to her family.
“To come out with the performances I did, honestly, I’m on cloud nine,” she said. “This is my first time not only ever making podium, but getting gold. It’s just a really good feeling.”
Brzozowski also enjoys having someone like Hoffman around, citing Hoffman’s competitiveness.
“It’s cool to think that we all get to compete against each other and chase this next Olympics together,” she said. “She’s a good person, so I’m happy to be on Team USA with her.”
A couple of fifth-place finishes on the North American Cup circuit might be miles away from the bright lights of the Olympics and the thrill of winning an Olympic medal. But for Hoffman, it’s the start of something new.
“We all start somewhere, and I’m starting in a place where I’m like, ‘Hey, you know what, I did get a medal,’” Hoffman said. “Is it fifth place? Yes, it is. But how fast did I push? I still got that push time. It’s the little wins that I look at, and I try to carry that on for positive stuff. You can always find something positive in everything that you do.”
The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation held their World Cup event at Park City this week. Using the track at the Utah Olympic Park. | David Jackson/Park Record
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