LAKE PLACID - The Olympic season kicked off with the first bobsled national team selection race at Mount Van Hoevenberg last Saturday.
Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton secured the men's bobsled win after finishing nearly a second ahead of the field, while Elana Meyers and Aja Evans led the women's division by seven-tenths of a second for their first victory of the season.
Holcomb earned a bye onto the national team based on last season's results, but he elected to utilize the selection races as preparation for the upcoming World Cup tour.
Elana Meyers and Aja Evans make their way down the track during last Saturday’s bobsled national team selection race at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. Myers and Evans took first place in the women’s two-person event.
(Photo — Jason Hicks-Moriarty)
"I made a mistake the first time I had a bye by taking it too lightly and just going through the motions," Holcomb said. "I didn't feel ready for the competitive season because we didn't rehearse race day. (Saturday), we did everything just like a race. It's good practice since there isn't any pressure to win."
Holcomb and Langton, who claimed the first two-man world championships title ever for the U.S. in 2012 on the Lake Placid track, looked effortless pushing start times of 5.04 seconds in both heats. Holcomb navigated the new BMW sled to the finish in 56.90 and 57.38 seconds for a combined time of 1:54.28.
"It feels fantastic to be back on ice," Langton said. "We had a really good day. We put in work over the summer and hope it transitions to the ice, and luckily it did. We had a really good day."
Army World Class Athlete Program soldier-athletes Nick Cunningham and Dallas Robinson partnered for the first race of the season to finish second.
"It feels good to get the jitters out," Cunningham said. "This is what we've been thinking about since our last World Cup on the 2014 Olympic track. It is so cool to look around and see how competitive our team is, and everyone out here is an Olympic contender."
Cunningham and Robinson maintained their speed after clocking the second-fastest push times of 5.10 and 5.09 for finish times of 57.69 and 57.54 seconds, respectively. The crew finished 0.95 seconds off the pace Holcomb and Langton set, but were 0.29 seconds ahead of the third-ranked team with a total time of 1:55.23.
"We are fortunate to know where we sit in the world because we have Holcomb, the top driver in the world, to measure ourselves against," Robinson said. "We're second to Holcomb and Langton in the U.S., so I like how we stack up. We have a few things to work out from the push and drive, but we're confident we're in a good place."
Cory Butner and Chuck Berkeley locked in third place with a two-run total of 1:55.52. The duo clocked starts of 5.17 and 5.19 seconds for consistent runs of 57.77 and 57.75.
Meyers and Evans capped last season with a silver medal performance on the 2014 Olympic track during the final World Cup event, and started this season with a win. Meyers earned a bye onto the national team, but is using the selection races to prepare for the next four months leading up to Sochi.
"I'm a slow starter," Meyers said. "I need some time to get back into it. It feels really good to get race experience, because race day is different than a training session. The adrenaline is higher, and you have to deal with the stakes-whether you win or lose. My goal is to get better every week and to continue improving my driving skills."
Meyers and Evans, who is starting only her second season, scored the fastest start and finish times. The pair clocked starts of 5.51 and 5.47 and crossed the finish line in 58.65 and 58.56 for a total time of 1:57.21.
"I finally got that new girl on the block thing out of the way," Evans said. "After Sochi last year, everything changed for me. My focus changed and became about the Olympics. It feels good to have a year under my belt now, because I understand the behind the scenes work and feel more determined than ever."
Jamie Greubel and Katie Eberling started the season strong with a second place finish after posting a two-run total time of 1:58.60. Greubel and Eberling pushed identical start times of 5.55 seconds in the two-heat race for finish times of 58.89 and 59.03.
"It's a lot of fun getting back on ice," Greubel said. "Cruising down the ice felt good. I'm really excited for the season and I'm looking forward to getting in some more runs to work on my skills before we head into the international competitive season."
"It's been a long break, so you forget how fun competing is," Eberling said. "Jamie did an amazing job, and it just feels fun to race again. Thanks to the Lake Placid crew for their hard work to get this race in even though the weather wasn't cooperating."
Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones finished third with a combined time of 1:58.60. The duo sprinted off the start block for push times of 5.60 and 5.58, and Fenlator drove the sled to the finish in 59.21 and 59.39 to finish 0.29 seconds from their teammates.
Bobsled selection races will continue in Park City, Utah before the national team is named Oct. 26. The national team will race on the World Cup tour, and points earned in world cup races will play a role in Olympic selection.