LAKE PLACID - Germans won two of three races and a Russian slider claimed his first World Cup victory as the FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton tour kicked off three days of action Friday at the Verizon Sports Complex in Lake Placid.
The women's and men's skeleton races were held in the morning, with Marion Thees of Germany and Sergei Chudinov of Russia topping their respective fields. The women bobsledders then took to Mount Van Hoevenberg's mile-long, 19-curve run in the afternoon in a make-up race from last weekend's snowed-out Park City, Utah competition, and Germany 1 driver Sandra Kiriasis used a record-setting first run to win for the second time this season.
Joining push athlete Berit Wiacker for the first time, the veteran Kiriasis drove to a track record of 56.90 seconds in the first heat and finished the second run in 57.04 for a combined winning time of 1:53.94. After injuring a quadriceps two weeks ago in Calgary, Shauna Rohbock piloted the USA 1 sled to a second-place finish with brakewoman Valerie Fleming. Cathleen Martini drove the Germany 2 to the bronze medal.
Germany’s Marion Thees begins her second run down the mile-long track at Mount Van Hoevenberg during her gold-medal performance in Friday’s FIBT World Cup tour stop in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
"My first run was fast," Kiriasis said. "It was perfect. My second run wasn't as good, but it was still a good run."
The German women have shifted their push athletes around at all three races this season, and so far the formula has appeared to pay off. With a new brakeman each week, Kiriasis has risen to the top of the driver's ranking with victories in Lake Placid and Whistler, B.C. and a second-place finish in Calgary.
Rohbock and Fleming finished .37 behind the winning team. They put down the second-fastest result in the first heat with a down time of 57.27 and tied Kiriasis for the quickest second trip down the track for a runner-up 1:54.31 total. On both runs, Rohbock made up time on the track after turning in slower starts than those of Germany 1.
"You usually can't start that far back," Rohbock said. "She'll (Kiriasis) usually beat you by a second. She didn't beat me by a second, but she still got me."
Rohbock, who may be in her final season at the World Cup level, will have another shot at a win on home soil today when the second women's competition is held in Lake Placid. Fleming will be celebrating her birthday during the race as she turns 34 today.
Martini was paired with Kristin Steinert, and they put down the third-fastest run in each heat for a 1:54.58 combined time.
Canadians Helen Upperton and Shelly-Ann Brown slid to a fourth-place finish in 1:54.72, and Bree Shaaf piloted USA 3 into fifth place. Along with Emily Azevedo, Shaaf finished in 1:54.96, which was 1.02 off the winning time.
"I had troubles in the Chicane on both runs," said Shaaf, referring to the long stretch leading into the final curves of the track. "I came in hitting the right wall, and that automatically sends you left. Kiriasis, she was smooth going through there. It was textbook."
Rookie World Cup USA 3 driver Jazmine Fenlator placed 11th in the 15-sled women's field. With Kristi Koplin on the brakes, Fenlator turned in runs of 58.12 and 57.85 for a 1:55.97 total.
Two seasons ago, Thees slid to the women's World Championship title in Lake Placid, and on Friday, she clinched another win on the track by being at the top of the field in each heat. Thees was actually tied for first place with Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth after both finished their opening run in 55.86 seconds. But the two sliders went opposite ways on the second run. Thees came through with a 56.09 second-run result and a 1:51.95 total, while Hollingsworth dropped back with a 56.86 result, which was the 11th-fastest second-run. Hollingsworth wound up fifth with a 1:52.54 combined time.
The win was the second of the season for Thees, who also triumphed in the World Cup tour's opening race in Whistler, the site of 2010 Vancouver Olympic competitions.
Shelley Rudman of Great Britain placed second in 1:52.28, Anja Huber of Germany placed third in 1:52.48 to retain her lead in the World Cup standings, and Nozomi Komuro of Japan just missed the podium, finishing fourth in 1:42.49. Anne O'Shea was the top American finisher, placing 10th with a 1:53.24 combined time.
Kimber Gabryszak was the other U.S. slider in the women's field, and she finished 15th in 1.53.94.
Not only did the 27-year-old Chudinov capture his first World Cup men's skeleton win, Friday marked the first time the Muscovite reached the podium at that level, with his previous top finish being a fourth-place result in February 2007 in Cesana, Italy.
Chudinov came from behind to take the win, and in doing so, he beat out the hottest racer on the World Cup tour in Martins Dukurs of Latvia. Dukurs was on top of the field and held a slim .06 lead over Chudinov after the first run, but the Russian came through in the second heat, beating Dukurs by a tenth of a second on the run for a winning 1:48.51 total. Dukurs, who has five victories, seven more podium finishes, and no lower than a sixth-place finish in his last 14 World Cup races, took another silver, while Kristan Bromley of Great Britain placed third.
Matt Antoine was the top U.S. finisher, placing fourth with a 1:49.05 total. Antoine, who has reached the World Cup podium once with a bronze medal, matched his next-best outing with another fourth place.
Antoine said the 10th curve on the Mount Van Hoevenberg run proved to be his downfall, both in training during the week and on race day.
"I was hoping for a little higher this week," Antoine said. "My goal was to medal. I had a lot of troubles with curve 10 this week. That's where you generate all your speed for the bottom portion of the track, and I just couldn't get my timing right on the exit.
"To make mistakes on both runs and still finish fourth, I'm definitely pleased with that," Antoine added. "If I could have both runs back and try them again I would definitely like that."
Referring to Chudinov's victory, Antoine said "It's good seeing a different face up there. If I could have gotten it right maybe I could have been a littler closer."
Antoine had the third-quickest start time on each run.
John Daly, a Plattsburgh state graduate, was poised to reach the podium for the U.S., after he stood in fourth place with a 54.38 first run. But he struggled on his second trip and fell all the way back to 10th in the final standings with a 1:49.46 total.
A season of struggles also continued for Eric Bernotas, a U.S. veteran from Avondale, Pa. Bernotas has tasted World Cup victory in Lake Placid in the past, but on Friday, he could only muster a 12th-place result with a 1:49.65 combined time.
World Cup racing in Lake Placid resumes today with men's and women's bobsled events.