LAKE PLACID - Germany has been the dominant nation in December on the World Cup bobsled tour, and continued in that mode during the first two days of FIBT racing in Lake Placid. But Sunday belonged to the Americans and the "Night Train."
On Mount Van Hoevenberg's mile-long track, USA 1 driver Steve Holcomb and his crew rode their four-man bobsled to a convincing victory to wrap up three days of sliding in the Olympic Village and end the World Cup tour's North American swing.
Holcomb, the defending Olympic and World Champion four-man bobsled driver, made a statement by piloting Night Train to nearly a half-second lead after the first of two heats. He then put down the fastest ride again in the second and final run to top the 11-sled field. The four-man race ended the first half of the season that included four stops. After the holidays, the World Cup tour will head to Europe.
USA-1 driver Steve Holcomb and his crew of Justin Olsen, Steven Langton and Curtis Tomasevicz begin their victory celebration as they ride up the finish ramp after Sunday’s FIBT World Cup race in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
"The Germans came over here and kind of dominated on our turf, and that's not too cool," Holcomb said. "It's nice to send them off knowing 'oh shoot' Holcomb's back."
Along with his crew of push athletes Justin Olsen, Steven Langton and Curtis Tomisevicz, Holcomb flew down the 19-curve run in 53.7 seconds on his first trip, which was just .03 off the track record set by German legend Andre Lange when Lake Placid hosted the 2003 World Championships, an event that will return to the venue in 2012. Leading by .47 of a second, Night Train completed its next trip in 54.31 seconds to give Holcomb and his crew - as well as the U.S. men - their first medal since they won the season opener in Whistler, British Columbia. Holcomb finished with a 1:48.01 combined time, which was .58 seconds ahead of the next fastest sled.
"It feels pretty good, especially the way the past few weeks have gone," Holcomb said. "In Calgary I made a few mistakes driving and we ended up fifth. In Park City, I strained my hamstring and ended up seventh. It's nice to be able to come back today and put in a full day of racing.
"It's nice to have the pushers. Those guys are incredible, and the Night Train is a fast sled, so I don't have to worry about that," Holcomb continued. "It's such a great feeling. The next time we are on this track will be the World Championships."
Maximillian Arndt drove to the silver medal to give the combined German men's and women's team its sixth podium finish in the four bobsled races held in Lake Placid over the past three days. Arndt and his crew of Rene Tiefert, Alexander Roediger and Martin Putze turned in times of 54.23 and 54.36 for a runner-up 1:48.01 total. The bronze medal went to Canada-1 driver Lyndon Rush and his crew of Justin Wilkinson, Cody Sorensen and Neville Wright, who put down runs of 54.17 and 54.46 for a 1:48.63 total.
Germany-2 driver Karl Angerer and his crew finished fourth in 1:48.98 and Russia-2 pilot Alexander Kasjanov rounded out the top five with a 1:49.07 total.
The U.S. had two more sleds in the field, including USA-2 driven by hometown hero John Napier, who returned to North America in late November after finishing nearly six months of infantry duty fighting in Afghanistan. Napier missed the season-opening races in Whistler, and has been attempting to work his way back into competitive form since that time with appearances in Calgary, Park City and Lake Placid.
Napier had hopes of medaling on his home track where he earned a gold and silver a year ago, but fell short of the objective, despite having a North Country cheering section that included fellow Vermont National Guard soldiers he fought with in Afghanistan. After placing seventh as the driver of USA-2 in Saturday's two-man race, Napier and his crew slid to an eighth-place finish Sunday. Along with Jesse Beckon, Colin Campbell and Laszio Vandracsek, Napier turned in times of 54.81 and 54.66 for a 1:49.47 total, which was 1.49 seconds off Holcomb's winning pace.
Despite coming up short of the podium in his first three races being back on the tour, Napier said he is happy to be home and is confident he can return to form in a sport he first got hooked on as a youngster.
"We've had a great three weeks of racing and I've had fun too, I've had a really great time getting back with this sport," Napier said. "It's tough being in Lake Placid knowing I have the abilities and skills to win and not being able to medal. Pushing, I need to get that back up there and I will. I'm not worried about that.
"It's awesome to be home," Napier added. "I get to go home and sleep in my own bed every night. It's been a long time since I've been able to do that. I'm looking forward to the next three weeks. I plan on vegetating, watching lots of cartoons and drinking a lot of chocolate milk, and just kind of relaxing for awhile."
The third American sled competing was piloted by rookie driver Ethan Albrecht-Carrie, a native of North Tonawanda. After recovering from a broken collarbone suffered in a crash early last season, Albrecht-Carrie has been attempting to work his way into the mix of the world's top bobsled drivers. He placed 13th in a 16-sled field in two-man Saturday and followed up with a 10th-place four-man finish Sunday. With his crew of Sean Hopkins, Jared Clugston and Mike Snyder, Albrecht-Carrie put down runs of 55.52 and 55.38 for a 1:50.90 total.
The FIBT Bobsled and Skeleton World Cup tour will resume again Jan. 10-16 in Igls, Austria.