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Americans collect opening medals

November 10, 2017
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Bobsled and skeleton athletes took to the ice at Mount Van Hoevenberg on Thursday for the first of eight World Cup events that will lead to next year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Under clear skies, several dozen sliding athletes from around the world competed in three races Thursday, including women's skeleton and women's and men's two-man bobsled. Competition started in the morning after a few days of training and as the weather became more seasonal and consistent after an especially warm fall.

Kicking off the World Cup season strongly, all three American women's two-man bobsled teams put in strong showings, with all three pairs finishing in the top 10. Pilot Elana Meyers Taylor and pusher Lauren Gibbs placed second in the two-heat race, finishing with a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 54.43 seconds. Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Melissa Lotholz won the first race of the season by three one-hundredths of a second.

Article Photos

Jamie Gruebel Poser, front, and Aja Evans push at the start of their women’s World Cup two-man bobsled run Thursday at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Complex. The duo finished fourth in the event, while the American team of Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs took the silver behind Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Melissa Lotholz.
(News photo — Justin A. Levine)

Jamie Greubel Poser and Aja Evans (1:54.61) placed fourth in the field of 20, and the third American team of Brittany Reinbolt and Briauna Jones (1:55.28) rounded out the home country contingent in ninth.

Meyers Taylor said the unseasonably warm weather led to fewer training runs, but saw some positives in her runs that she hopes to build upon.

"I'm happy with it, I think we've just been struggling with run volume this year," Meyers Taylor said. "We've been struggling a little bit with the different conditions, but that's bobsled. It's not necessarily a sport that's made to be done in October."

Meyers Taylor and Gibbs set a new Lake Placid start record of 5.34 seconds Thursday. Meyers Taylor and Cherrelle Garrett set the previous record of 5.42 in 2014.

"I made a little bit too many mistakes on the track to come out with the win today, but we're going to build on this and keep getting stronger," Meyers Taylor said. "I think the biggest thing is just getting more runs, more seat time. We'll go out to Park City and just try and get comfortable in our sleds."

Meyers Taylor and Gibbs last teamed together for a bronze medal in the 2016 World Championships.

"This is my first start record, but it was in the back of my mind," Gibbs said. "They say we broke it by 0.15, but it's not really the case because three of my teammates broke it unofficially during team trials, so it just shows the depth of Team USA. I don't think I ever thought pushing in the 5.30s was possible until two of my other teammates did it, so it just shows that we're great from top to bottom."


Men's two-man

On the men's side of the two-man sleigh, the Americans took two podium spots, getting bested by just over a tenth of a second by the German team of Nico Walther and Christian Poser, who finished their two runs with a combined time of 1:52.92.

Pilot Nick Cunningham and pusher Ryan Bailey took the silver medal 0.11 seconds behind Walther, while Whitehall native Codie Bascue and Carlo Valdes, of California, earned the third spot with a time of 1:52.07. The third American team of Justin Olsen and Steve Langton (1:52.15) wound up in sixth place.

"It really shows what a difference a year makes," Cunningham said. "Last year I was left behind and watched my teammates competing and go on tour, and it was a very eye-opening experience for me."

Cunningham, a two-time Olympian, was plagued with injuries last season and was left off the national team roster after a competitive team trials. He raced the North American Cup series and won the overall title to earn his spot on the 2017 World Championship team.

"I'm happy where we are today," Cunningham said. "I wish we had gotten that win, but we get to come back out tomorrow and go for the victory."

Bascue, 23, navigated through the difficult Lake Placid track to overtake several more experienced drivers en route to his first career World Cup podium.

""It's an amazing feeling," Bascue said. "It was a little bit of an emotional race, it was my first race without Holcy, but I just took that and used the emotion and it's nice to be on the podium for the first time."


Women's skeleton

The three U.S. women struggled against a strong skeleton field that included a new course record and a new start record. Katie Uhlaender was the top American with her ninth-place finish in a combined time of 1:50.81.

Savannah Graybill (1:51.17) placed 11th in the field of 26, while Kendall Wesenberg (1:51.33) finished 14th. Austria's Janine Flock (1:50.13) won the race, breaking her own course record on the first run, finishing it in just 54.69 seconds. Russia's Elena Nikitina (fourth, 1:50.48) also set a record with her start time of 5.03 seconds.

"Honestly, I feel a little bit like a rookie," said Uhlaender, a three-time Olympian. "It's been a while since I've been on this stage healthy. I think I'm just using this race to get the jitters out. I'm world champion on this track, I expected better results, but I'll dig deep and make sure I have my head on straight next time."

Wesenberg was in 16th place after her first run of 55.90, but showed a nearly half-second improvement in her second.

"My first run was not what I know I'm capable of," Wesenberg, whose home track is in Park City, Utah, said. "My second one I pulled it together and had a pretty solid run, but that first run was tough for me. The track conditions are awesome today but they have been so inconsistent that I just started second guessing a lot of things and ended up probably thinking more than I needed to. "

Women's skeleton will next take the ice in Park City, Utah next weekend.

"It's nice to get one race done - obviously not the result I wanted - but just to get things going and kind of get into the flow of competing every week and being on World Cup again."

The ISBF BMW World Cup continues today with men's skeleton at 8:30 a.m. and another two-man men's bobsled event at 1 p.m. at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Complex.



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