LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — After the first bobsled World Cup this season, Sochi 1-2-3 is looking more like reality and less like a dream for Team USA. Led by 2010 Olympic gold medalist Steven Holcomb, USA Bobsled took first and second in the men’s two-man bobsled, while Cory Butner drove his sled to his first World Cup medal.
In the women’s competition, summer Olympians Lolo Jones and Tianna Bartoletta (nee Madison) ended their bobsled World Cup debuts on the podium. Jones helped power Jazmine Fenlator’s sled off the line, and the duo leapt from sixth after the first run to a silver medal.
“I thought I could climb up a couple spots,” said Fenlator. “In my wildest dreams, I did not think I would make it to the podium.”
This was Fenlator’s first World Cup podium.
Jones was also in shock and couldn’t stop smiling.
“The difference is you’re running on ice!” she blurted, when asked how bobsledding compares to a track meet. “You cannot use your arms. And you’re relying on somebody else. I’m not doing anything once I’m in the sled. I’m praying and counting curves.”
And she continued to marvel at the team aspect of bobsledding.
“It’s a rhythm with somebody else,” she said. “It takes two. I’m so used to relying on myself. To have Jazmine with me, I’ve never experienced this on a team before.”
A favorite on the Lake Placid track, Elana Meyers held on to third despite a tough second run.
“I made a few mistakes, I was late off a couple corners that cost us some time,” she said.
But the reigning world bronze medalist said it was “pretty awesome” having an Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter power her sled off the line. Bartoletta was part of the 4 x 100m relay team that broke a 27-year-old world record at the London 2012 Olympics.
“She did great,” Meyers. “First World Cup race, to walk away with a medal, that’s great for her. It was really fun competing with her.”
Team USA’s women’s bobsled team has a deep pool of athletes this year. And Jones and Bartoletta aren’t even the fastest. That title belongs to rookie Aja Evans.
“[Aja]’s probably the most gifted athlete I’ve ever seen,” said women’s coach Todd Hays. “Her future is very bright with our sport.”
Evans and driver Jamie Greubel, the duo who broke the track start record on Evans’ third day on the ice in October, finished ninth overall but had the fastest starts of the day.
In upcoming World Cups, Hays will rotate the six brake women — who also include veterans Emily Azevedo and Katie Eberling, as well as rookie Cherrelle Garrett — according to their strengths and track start layouts. Lake Placid’s track has a longer, flatter start.
“Sprinters do better here,” he said. “Tianna and Lolo have high top speed. When they load at the back [of the sled] at top speed, it carries down the track.”
“This is going to be an exploratory season,” added Hays. “We want to go to Sochi with absolute certainty of who are the best teams all the way across the board.”
Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton stand atop the podium at the
Lake Placid World Cup. They are flanked by Team USA's Cory
Butner and Charles Berkeley in second and Francesco Friedrich
and Gino Gerhardi from Germany in third.
After watching the U.S. women do well in the morning, the men hit the track with something to prove in the afternoon. And after the first run, Team USA was poised to sweep the podium. Holcomb and Steve Langton held a huge 0.45 second lead, with Nick Cunningham and Andreas Drbal in third and Cory Butner and Charles Berkeley in fifth.
“It always motivates us when our women do really well,” said Butner. “They had great finishes, and it put a little pressure on us to also perform on our home track.”
And perform is just what Butner did. With great driving second run, he and Berkeley moved up to the silver medal spot. It marked Butner’s first World Cup podium — proof that giving up his full-time job with an electrical company in California to train full-time for bobsled is paying off.
On his second run, Holcomb stretched his lead to 0.60 seconds, an indication that the Olympic gold medalist is aiming for more gold in Sochi.
“There’s still one elusive title I don’t have yet, and that’s the two-man Olympic champion,” he said. “That’s my focus. Obviously, I want another four-man gold medal. But getting a two-man medal would be a pretty big step for me.”
Cunningham hoped to round out the podium in third but fell to fifth after making what he called “young driver errors” second run.
“It feels like we let the team down,” he said.
But he did not let down families outside New York last week. A sergeant in the National Guard, Cunningham and bobsled teammate and fellow Guardsman Dallas Robinson drove down to the New York area last Tuesday to help families hit by Hurricane Sandy. They spent two days removing sodden furniture from basements and cleaning streets of debris. They slept in Cunningham’s truck.
“You get into this mindset where it’s all about weights, all about sliding and sleds and the Olympics,” Cunningham said. “Going down there showed us what’s really important when these families had everything taken away and all they had was each other. It really helped us bring it back to what’s important.”
After the four-man competition Saturday morning, Team USA packs up the sleds and heads to Park City for World Cup #2.
“It’s exciting to show where our program is going,” said Holcomb. “[Nick and Cory] are here training all year and looking better and better every day driving. Moving forward, we’re going to have three sleds that are going to be competitive.”
Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.