LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Codie Bascue has been driving bobsleds down Mt. Van Hoevenberg longer than he’s been driving a car. He’s 23 now, and he’s been at the helm of a bobsled since he was 8.
His grandfather, Alan Bascue, known to Codie as Pop, first got him into the sport. Pop began sliding in Lake Placid in the 1980s and started a bobsled club at the Whitehall elementary school in the early 2000s. Codie tagged along at first, then drove his first peewee sled down the old track at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. Pop pushed him off on that first drive.
With Pop ringing a cowbell in the finish stands on a cold day in Lake Placid, Codie earned his first IBSF World Cup win, a two-man event.
“For [Pop] to be there my first run and now be here for my first world cup gold is pretty special,” said Bascue.
Bascue and brakeman Sam McGuffie — a former running back in the NFL — finished 0.11 seconds ahead of Canada’s Justin Kripps, the 2017 world championships silver medalist, and 0.40 ahead of teammate Justin Olsen and Evan Weinstock. It was Olsen’s first world cup podium as a driver. He finished sixth in yesterday’s two-man race on the Lake Placid track. (A second two-man race today replaced the usual four-man after warm weather earlier this week made the track unsuitable for the bigger four-man sleds.)
Before moving to the driver’s seat three years ago, Olsen was a push athlete since starting the sport in 2007. He won Olympic gold in the four-man “Night Train” sled with Steven Holcomb in 2010, along with two world championship gold medals and a bronze.
Now driving, Olsen has set realistic expectations.
“I’m shooting for top 10s [this season],” he said. “I’m not going to get ahead of myself. This is my eleventh year. I know what it’s like to know you’re going to win. We had that for a long time with the Night Train. Right now, we’re not at that stage, and I’m OK with that.”
Olsen and Weinstock — a decathlete and pre-med student from Brown University — had the fastest start times both runs and were only four-hundredths of a second from breaking the five-year-old start record. This fast start on his second run helped propel them from fifth place to third.
"It's fitting that this would come on home ice," Olsen said. "It was just a matter of executing on race day, we know we're fast here. Today was great with Evan, we've been working together for so long, so it's easy to stay focused."
Silver medalists yesterday, Nick Cunningham and Ryan Bailey were third after the first run today. But a mistake after the start bounced them down to fourth.
A 1-3-4 finish is a promising start for a program that was left reeling after the unexpected death of Holcomb last May. It was only the fourth time in the last decade that the U.S. men have put more than one sled on the podium in Lake Placid World Cup two-man races.
“I think Team USA is pretty strong right now, and we’re showing the world that, and we’ll continue to do that the rest of the season,” said Bascue.
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For Bascue, the Lake Placid World Cup was a debut of sorts — as a podium contender. On the world cup for the last four years, he came close to the podium last year in Lake Placid. But then his results fell off. He used it as motivation during the off season and came into the 2018 Olympic year with a new mindset.
“If we can go into every race expecting to be on the podium, then we have a good shot of being there,” he said.
After finishing in third place yesterday, Bascue got another boost of confidence.
“I proved to myself that I can be up there with the best on the world cup,” he said. “Going into this race, I really wanted to be on the podium again or win the race. I figured with Sam, he’s a great athlete, rides in the sled well, I figured we’d have a real good shot at winning this race.”
For Alan Bascue, his grandson’s win was the culmination of a project that he began simply to introduce more kids in the town of Whitehall, New York (a little over an hour away from Mt. Van Hoevenberg), to bobsled. Alan had had a kid’s dream of bobsledding, but he did not get onto a bob-run until he was 32 years old. He wanted to introduce kids to the sport at a younger age.
Once he started the bobsled club in Whitehall, Alan Bascue drove busloads of kids to Mt. Van Hoevenberg every Sunday. After one run down the track, many said, “I don’t want to come back, Mr. Bascue.”
But not young Codie, who does not remember much about his first run driving the peewee sled — other than his grandfather pushing him and another little guy off the start line. Little Codie had a knack for driving that was soon noticed.
“You could tell the way he maneuvered the sled and how he was handling it and his attitude,” said Alan.
One day when Codie was 17, Alan Bascue was at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg track with Todd Hays, 2002 Olympic silver medalist in four-man bobsled. The two men were standing by Shady II, a big sweeping curve about halfway down the track, and Codie drove by in a rickety two-man sled. He had started at the top of the track.
“Who’s that kid in that sled?” asked Hays, who then took Codie under his wing. Within two years, he made it onto the world cup circuit.
To progress onto the podium, he needed to combine skill with confidence. Hard training over the summer helped, as did dropping 15 pounds.
Since last season, Alan has noticed a change in his grandson. “I think he’s realizing what he can do,” he said.
For Codie, who’s quiet (much like his idol, Holcomb), the new mindset has lifted him from an also-ran to a medal contender.
“When I started the sport, I never imagined that I’d win a world cup,” he said. “So it’s pretty special to be here right now.”
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The double podium finish in men’s two-man ended a day that started on a rough note for Team USA. In men’s skeleton, the Americans finished far off the podium.
Matt Antoine — the Olympic bronze medalist in 2014 — came into the race thinking he could win it. After two slow starts, he ended up eighth.
“I don’t know,” he said, puzzled about his runs. “First thing I can point at is my start time. And it’s baffling because in October, I was pushing the fastest I think I’ve ever pushed in my career. So it all of a sudden to have it fall off a few weeks later, I don’t know.”
In his second world cup back since retiring from skeleton after the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, John Daly also struggled. Also with slow starts, he finished 17th.
The Americans might not have adjusted properly for the weather. They both had fast training runs on Tuesday and Wednesday this week — when temperatures were in the 40s and the track ice was softer. But a cold front dropped temps into the single digits overnight, hardening the track.
“A lot of different conditions going on today, weather, sled setup, the athlete also,” said Daly. “I love to point a finger at somebody else, but it still lies on me at the end. Go back to the drawing board, figure it out.”
Five-time world champion Martins Dukurs from Latvia won for his 49th world cup win.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.