PARK CITY, Utah – With less than 15 months to go until the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams are looking stronger than ever and on track for one of their most impressive seasons in recent history.
The World Cup season kicked off last weekend in Lake Placid, where the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation had 13 sleds competing and earned a total of six medals and 12 top-10 finishes.
The success continued as the team rolled on to the Park City World Cup, where Team USA’s 14 sleds earned four medals (including two gold) and 10 top-10 finishes.
Here’s a recap of how the U.S. athletes performed this weekend:
Two-time Olympian and reigning world champion Katie Uhlaender gave the U.S. an exciting start to the competition by earning gold Friday morning. Uhlaender trailed Great Britain’s Elizabeth Yarnold by 12 hundredths of a second after the first run.
With the first run out of the way, Uhlaender was able to relax and “just do what I knew how to do.” Her second run was the second-fastest of the entire competition and she ultimately won the competition by one hundredth of a second. Yarnold took silver and Germany’s Anja Huber finished third. Park City native Kimber Gabryszak was 15th.
“The second run felt better because I got all my nerves out of the way and at that time it’s do or die,” Uhlaender said. “I can’t believe it came down to a hundredth but I’ll take it!”
The World Cup win was Uhlaender’s first in nearly five years. Read more on Uhlaender here.
MEN’S TWO-MAN BOBSLED
The medals kept on coming for the U.S. as two-man world champion driver Steven Holcomb teamed with his Olympic brakeman, Curt Tomasevicz, to win gold while Cory Butner, who is in his first full World Cup season as a driver, and 2010 Olympian Chuck Berkeley paired up to win silver. In a full repeat of the Lake Placid podium, Germany’s Franesco Friedrich and Gino Gerhardi earned bronze. Nick Cunningham and Adam Clark finished 15th.
While last week’s success in Lake Placid was to be expected, winning in Park City was just as exciting for Team USA as winning on any international track.
“We haven’t come to this track in a couple years,” Tomasevicz said. “Even though it’s one of our home tracks in the United States, we spend most of our time in Lake Placid. In a sense, the playing field is even here.”
Holcomb and Tomasevicz were in fourth after the first run and were able to move up to first after sleds from Great Britain, Canada and Latvia had mistakes during the second run. Butner and Berkeley finished ninth in the first run and had a stellar second run of 48.58 seconds, the fastest run of the entire competition, to land them on the podium.
“I’d like to put two runs together like we had on the second run,” Butner said. I’m making mistakes as a driver and it’s gonna happen but [I’m] learning every day still.”
Butner has earned his first two career World Cup medals with the first two two-man races of the season while Holcomb has also found new success in two-man. This is the first time he has ever earned consecutive gold medals in two-man. Even more impressive is that he partnered with Steve Langton to win last week’s race in a different sled than he and Tomasevicz used this week.
“It just goes to show how good my team is,” Holcomb said. “It’s one thing to have a good four-man crew but it’s another thing to have three really fast two-man guys as well. There’s a lot of teams that have one guy on their four-man crew that does two-man but I have three that are awesome.
“Those guys [Langton, Justin Olsen, Tomasevicz] are working so hard to make sure they’re in shape and in my opinion they’re the best push crew on the hill, hands down.”
The U.S. women’s bobsled team is made up of mostly rookies this season – but that hasn’t stopped them from sliding fast and taking names.
All three drivers – Jazmine Fenlator, Jamie Greubel, Elana Meyers – are in their third season of driving. The pool of six push athletes consists of four women all in their first year of the sport (Aja Evans, Cherrelle Garrett, Lolo Jones, Tianna Madison Bartoletta), while Katie Eberling is in her second season and 2010 Olympian Emily Azevedo is the veteran of the group in her seventh season.
Last week Fenlator teamed up with Jones to earn silver while Meyers and Bartoletta took bronze; Greubel and Evans finished ninth. Team USA did not win any medals this week but the women proved they can switch up the teams and still compete with the rest of the world on any track.
In Park City, Greubel teamed up with Eberling for the first time to land just outside the medals in fourth place, a career best World Cup result for Greubel. This was Eberling’s first time on the Park City track and Greubel’s first World Cup on the track.
“It’s my second year doing it and I just need to keep reminding myself that I’m still learning and I stepped into this veteran role pretty quickly,” Eberling said. “I’m just trying to take it one year at a time.”
Fenlator and Azevedo slid together for the first time in a World Cup as well and finished the race in fifth place despite sitting in eighth after the first run. Behind her silver medal from last week this was Fenlator’s best World Cup result; it ties Azevedo’s five previous fifth place finishes for her best result.
“I still look around in the start house and see multi-time medalists and Olympians and especially coming off of a great race last week I was like, ‘Woah, that’s crazy,’” Fenlator said. “So every day I’m just trying to learn, trying to watch and really push myself to be up there with them.”
Olympic and world bronze medalist Elana Meyers teamed up with U.S. push champion Aja Evans for what she called a disappointing eighth place finish. Meyers was in third place after the first heat but lost time in the second heat due to driving errors. The duo’s starts were the two best times of the competition and their first run start of 5.10 seconds obliterated the Park City start record. Evans now owns the start record on every track she has competed on (Lake Placid and Park City).
“It’s very exciting,” Evans said. “I’m just trying to give everything my all, especially at the start so I couldn’t ask for a better start today.”
While Team USA has yet to earn a World Cup medal in men’s skeleton this season, the trio of John Daly, Matt Antoine and Kyle Tress are all inching closer and closer to the podium.
“The program is definitely moving forward,” Daly said. “We’re getting pushed every day by each other. Tuffy [Latour, skeleton head coach] is really good and Zach [Lund, skeleton driving coach] is amazing. I think it’s only gonna get better from here the next two years.”
Daly was unable to match his fourth place finish from last week but achieved a respectable seventh place finish in Park City.
“I’m happy with the way I slid, not with the time,” Daly said.
Matt Antoine improved upon his 10th place from last week by finishing ninth, a solid result considering he is only four months out from surgery to repair a partial tear in his patella tendon. Antoine expects to be fully recovered by the second half of the World Cup tour.
“I’m absolutely pleased with today,” Antoine said. “I knew this was going to be the most difficult track to get my top 10 at just because it’s such a push-dependent track. … That’s a big achievement for me.”
Kyle Tress struggled to 20th place, a disappointing finish after his fifth place result in Lake Placid.
“This is a totally different track; everything about this track is very, very different,” Tress said. “It’s a gliding track, it’s a smooth track, it’s a fluid track whereas Lake Placid you’re steering the whole way down, so that transition is a little rough. I think when we get to Whistler next week where we’re back to that Lake Placid style it’ll be very good for us.”
MEN’S FOUR-MAN BOBSLED
Holcomb and his world championship crew of Olsen, Langton and Tomasevicz – better known as Team Night Train – continued to prove they are on the hunt for more Olympic gold in Sochi as they earned their second consecutive silver medal of the season.
What Holcomb really hoped to do was sweep the two- and four-man in his hometown of Park City. Although that did not happen he was still satisfied taking silver to Russia’s Alexander Zubkov. Zubkov has been driving bobsleds since 1999, competed at four Olympic Winter Games (his first was in luge), earned silver in four-man in 2006 and bronze in two-man in 2010, won the 2011 two-man world title and has earned four overall four-man World Cup titles.
“It’s hard to be upset when you’re losing to Zubkov,” Holcomb said. “He’s the only one who’s got more experience than I do.
“Pushes were pretty good, those guys definitely had two consistent pushes which is what we need; it kept me in the race, I was able to make a few mistakes and still finish second place. I’m happy with that.”
Cunningham drove his crew of Clark, Andreas Drbal and Chris Fogt to a fifth place finish, continuing their success after a bronze medal finish last week. While they did not medal, the USA-2 crew managed to post a start time in their second run that was faster than any other sled in the competition.
“It’s nice to come out here and really give these guys what they are giving me,” Cunningham said. “They’re giving me a top in world push and it’s definitely easy to be at the top when that’s what you start off with.
“We’re all a really close-knit group. It’s not just our team, it’s USA- 1, 2 and 3. We’re all a bunch of buddies and I really think that’s why we’re all pushing each other. You can’t beat it, you can’t beat the camaraderie on Team USA.”
Butner and his crew of Berkeley, Nic Taylor and Johnny Quinn finished 14th, improving on their 20th place finish in Lake Placid. This was the first World Cup for Taylor, who is a former UCLA decathlon coach.
“It’s so much fun, we have the best athletes in the world,” Taylor said of his first World Cup. “You walk around and see Steve Langton, see Justin Olsen you’re like, ‘Oh man, I need to eat my vegetables, need to eat my milk because they are.’”