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U.S. team rides learning curve in Intercontinental Cup season opener
LILLEHAMMER, Norway (December 9, 2011)–The first stop of the Intercontinental Cup tour was on the 1994 Olympic track in Lillehammer from Dec. 8-9. While the site is a frequent training facility for Europeans, it was a new track for a mostly rookie U.S. team. Three of the five athletes on the American squad made their Intercontinental Cup debut today.
“I’m proud of the way everyone worked together as a team and shared information,” said Brian McDonald, U.S. skeleton coach. “Many of the other nations have been here well over a week in advance and taking up to five training runs a day, so we’ve been playing catch-up from the day we arrived. By the end of the week, this team was definitely reeling them in.”
Athletes competed in two races held over two days. Results were identical in the men’s skeleton races for the medalists and Americans. Tom Santagato (Astoria, N.Y.) was the top U.S. finisher after finishing 13th both days.
“I was fairly happy with the way I competed in both races, and I had a lot of fun competing here in Lillehammer,” Santagato said. “The competition on the Intercontinental Cup circuit is definitely a step above what I’m used to, so I knew I was going to have to step up my game. Everyone was so close after the first heat in both races and it really made for some exciting racing.”
Santagato started his international sliding career on the America’s Cup tour last season, and a bronze medal in Calgary nearly a year ago propelled his development in the sport. Santagato slid combined times of 1:50.49 and 1:51.24 in his Intercontinental Cup debut.
“I made mistakes here and there, but for the most part I was able to stay consistent, and that is something I struggled with during training,” Santagato said. “Thirteenth place isn’t really something to be excited about, but I made progress every day, so that’s really all I can ask for.”
Luke Schulz’s (Davenport, N.D.) combined times of 1:51.01 and 1:51.80 placed him just behind his teammate for 14th position both days.
“This was a trying week for me personally,” Schulz said. “The track has a lot of subtleties that I really struggled with. The team did a great job of really pulling together to learn this track in such a short amount of time, and most of us were picking up half a second a day. We just ran out of time before the race.”
Although Schulz was unhappy with his finishes, he pushed a time of 4.77 seconds to tie British athlete David Swift for the start record. The record setting pace off the block was one-tenth of a second faster than any other competitor.
“The only bright spot for me was tying for the start record,” Shulz said. “I find it slightly ironic that the day I lose the start record in La Plagne, I gain a share of it in Lillehammer.”
Schulz garnered the reputation as one of the fastest pushers on circuit and is no stranger to breaking records. Schulz earned the start record during the La Plagne, France Intercontinental Cup race last season, but his record fell to Alexander Tretiakov the “Russian Rocket” in this morning’s World Cup event.
“I don’t know how many more of these I can get, because I’m running out of tracks that Tretiakov hasn’t raced on,” Schulz said.
Greg West (Orange Beach, Ala.) was just off Schulz’s pace to finish 15th both days. West clocked two-run totals of 1:51.39 and 1:51.85 in his European debut.
“After only six days of sliding, all of us had a chance to finish strongly against sliders that have been training here for weeks,” West said. “I think this shows how much our team worked together this week to figure out the nuances of the track.”
“While I’m not ecstatic about the result, I am happy with my improvement this week,” West continued. “Racing against guys who were top ten finishers in worlds is pretty humbling, but it also pushed you to be better.”
German Michi Halilovic claimed double gold after sliding the two fastest combined times over the two days of racing. Halilovic slid a two-run total of 1:47.74 on Thursday and 1:48.29 today to sweep the podium.
German teammate Sandro Stielicke was second both days with totals of 1:47.80 and 1:48.77. Ed Smith from Great Britain denied the Germans a complete sweep of the medals by earning bronze both days with combined times of 1:48.49 and 1:49.13.
The women’s competitions were less predictable than the men’s races. Rachelle Rasmussen (Belmont, Calif.) led the two-member women’s team for the U.S. with 12th and 14th place finishes after posting combined times of 1:53.29 and 1:54.17, respectively.
“Every day we improved and race day was no exception,” Rasmussen said. “I was able to get a personal best, so I’m happy. The atmosphere on the team has been great. Everyone has been sharing lines, giving each other feedback and letting each other borrow equipment to make sure we succeeded as a team.”
U.S. competitor Savannah Graybill (Denver, Pa.) clocked combined times of 1:53.77 and 1:54.73 to finish 15th and 17th in her first overseas race.
“While the track isn’t as technical as others, it’s very difficult to find time here,” Graybill said. “The smallest mistakes, especially at the top of the track, cost a lot of time once you reach the finish.”
Graybill’s first-ever international race was earlier this season during the America’s Cup events in Park City, Utah and Calgary, Canada, and Lillehammer was her third new track in as many months.
“Overall I was hoping for a stronger finish, but the experience in Lillehammer has been very positive,” Graybill said. “It’s been very exciting to compete in my first European race, and the collective team atmosphere has been awesome.”
British athlete Elisabeth Yarnold dominated the women’s races. The 2011 Junior World Championship silver medalist clocked total times of 1:50.04 and 1:50.51 to add two gold medals to her growing sliding resume.
German Sophia Griebel posted a two-run total of 1:50.73 to claim silver on Thursday, while German Jacqueline Lölling earned bronze. British slider Donna Creighton finished second today with a combined time of 1:51.24, and Canadian Lanette Prediger snagged bronze.
The Intercontinental Cup tour continues in Sigulda, Latvia next week before the circuit pauses for the holiday break. For media inquiries, please contact Amanda Bird, USBSF Marketing & Communications Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (518) 354-2250.
Women’s Skeleton Race #1
1. Elisabeth Yarnold (GBR) 1:50.04 (54.92, 55.12); 2. Sophia Griebel (GER) 1:50.73 (55.33, 55.40); 3. Jacqueline Lölling (GER) 1:50.87 (55.29, 55.58);…12. Rachelle Rasmussen (USA) 1:53.29 (56.74, 56.55);…15. Savannah Graybill (USA) 1:53.77 (56.73, 57.04);
Women’s Skeleton Race #2
1.Elisabeth Yarnold (GBR) 1:50.51 (55.29, 55.22); 2. Donna Creighton (GBR) 1:51.24 (55.62, 55.62); 3. Lanette Prediger (CAN) 1:51.39 (55.64, 55.75);…14. Rachelle Rasmussen (USA) 1:54.17 (57.02, 57.15);…17. Savannah Graybill (USA) 1:54.73 (57.62, 57.11);
Men’s Skeleton Race #1
1. Michi Halilovic (GER) 1:47.74 (53.82, 53.92); 2. Sandro Stielicke (GER) 1:47.80 (53.80, 54.00); 3. Ed Smith (GBR) 1:48.49 (54.32, 54.17);…13. Tom Santagato (USA) 1:50.49 (55.27, 55.22); 14. Luke Schulz (USA) 1:51.01 (55.13, 55.88); 15. Greg West (USA) 1:51.39 (55.61, 55.78)
Men’s Skeleton Race #2
1. Michi Halilovic (GER) 1:48.29 (54.32, 53.97); 2. Sandro Stielicke (GER) 1:48.77 (54.54, 54.23); 3. Ed Smith (GBR) 1:49.13 (54.68, 54.45);…13. Tom Santagato (USA) 1:51.24 (55.74, 55.50); 14. Luke Shulz (USA) 1:51.80 (55.87, 55.93); 15. Greg West (USA) 1:51.85 (56.07, 55.78);
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The United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, based in Lake Placid, N.Y., is the national governing body for the sports of bobsled and skeleton in the United States. The USBSF would like to thank its sponsors, suppliers and contributors for their support: BMW of North America, Under Armour, United States National Guard, Kampgrounds of America, National Strength and Conditioning Association, Vivat!, Global Forwarding, KBC Helmets, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, EDAS/Ripxx, UberSense, Tesa Tape and Ferris Mfg. Corp. For more information, please visit the USBSF website at http://bobsled.teamusa.org.