Basking in World Cup gold
23-year-old from Whitehall captures first WC gold medal
LAKE PLACID — Growing up just a couple hours down the Northway from Lake Placid in Whitehall, Codie Bascue found out he really liked the sport of bobsledding when he was introduced to the sport during a youth program on the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Back then, the thought of being a World Cup medalist never even crossed his mind. But after two days of racing on home ice this week, Bascue not only won the first World Cup medal of his career, he grabbed two. Friday’s turned out to be golden as the 23-year-old topped the men’s field in the final event of the World Cup bobsled and skeleton’s tour visit in the Olympic Village.
The 2017-18 World Cup season opened in Lake Placid on Thursday and Friday, and Bascue led an impressive performance by the United States men, who went into a new season for the first time in recent years without their brightest star and Olympic champion, Steve Holcomb, who passed away unexpectedly in May.
In a pair of two-man events here, the U.S. men collected four out of a possible six medals.
On Thursday, in the first of two men’s two-man bobsled races, Bascue snagged the first World Cup medal of his career, a bronze, and then followed with a winning effort Friday to beat out a field of 27 sleds representing 14 different nations.
Joining brakeman Sam McGuffie, Bascue put down the fastest runs in both heats to win with a combined time of 1 minute, 51.73 seconds. Canadians Justin Kripps and Alexander Kopacz finished runner-up 0.11 back, and American Justin Olsen drove to his first World Cup medal with a third-place finish.
Olsen, a 2010 gold-medal push athlete who rode in the Night Train sled as a member of Holcomb’s historic four-man Vancouver Olympic championship team, finished in 1:52.13.
Bascue recalled taking his first run as a youngster with his grandfather Alan present at the track, and the elder Bascue was on hand again to see Friday’s gold-medal performance.
“That was a long time ago. All I remember from my first run was getting in the sled and my grandfather pushing me off,” Bascue said. “It was on the old track — a quarter-mile, just a couple curves. It was kind of a cool memory for where I am now. He’s kind of a super fan. For him to be there for my first run and have him here for my first World Cup gold is pretty special.”
After finishing third on Thursday with brakeman Carlo Valdes, Bascue teamed up with McGuffie on Friday and the two turned in top-five push efforts on both runs on the way to their triumph.
“In this race, I wanted to be on the podium again or win the race, and with Sam — he’s a real good athlete and rides in the sled well — I figured we had a real good shot at winning this race,” Bascue said. “I think these two podiums at the start of the season really boost confidence, and as for the rest of the season, just proves to me that I can be up there with all these amazing athletes.”
Olsen, who was a push athlete for the U.S. at the past two Winter Olympics, hopped in the driver’s seat after his 2014 appearance in Sochi and cracked the top three in World Cup bobsledding for the first time as a pilot on Friday. The native of San Antonio, Texas, may not have expected a podium performance, but was obviously pleased with the result. He finished sixth Thursday with push athlete Steve Langton and improved to third place on Friday with the help of brakeman Evan Weinstock.
“I’ve been in the top six twice maybe,” the veteran Olsen said. “The gameplan for me really doesn’t change. I’m still shooting for top 10s. I’m not going to get ahead of myself. This is my 11th year, and I know what it’s like to know you’re going to win. I do. We had that for a long time with the Night Train, and so right now, we’re not at that stage, and I’m OK with that. You start off great, you finish off great, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
After sliding to the silver medal Thursday, Nick Cunningham, the third U.S. men’s pilot racing in Lake Placid, was poised for another podium finish after he stood in third place following Friday’s opening run. Cunningham was paired with push athlete Ryan Bailey, and at the beginning of their second heat, their sled popped out of the start groove carved in the ice, which basically ended any hopes they had of reaching the podium.
“We came close,” said a disappointed Cunningham. “We went for it. We didn’t go for second place, we didn’t go for third place, we went for the win and it bit us. We had a little mishap and got out of the start groove and hit the wall going into (curve) 1. The race was over before it started. At that point, it was just get to the bottom, get the sled off the ice, go home and work toward next week.
“Finishing fourth we’ll take it but by no means are we happy with it,” Cunningham added. “We came out here to win this thing, and we’re going to go out next week with the same mindset. You’re out here to come (through), you’re out here to go for it and sometimes it doesn’t work out in your favor.”
Originally, one men’s two-man race and a four-man race were slated for Lake Placid, but warm conditions earlier in the week prompted the four-man event to be canceled, which ultimately ended up in a second two-man event being added to the competition slate.
Friday’s racing kicked off with the first men’s skeleton race of the World Cup season, and Lativa’s Martins Dukurs took first place with a two-run 1:47:54 total. Korea’s Sungbin Yun won the silver in 1:47.65, and Russian Alexander Tretiakov claimed bronze in 1:47:17.
Three American men were also in the field, and didn’t slide to their expectations. Matt Antoine, who won skeleton bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, had the fastest finish for the U.S., placing eighth in 1:48.77, which was more than a second behind Dukurs’ winning result. John Daly was next, placing 17th in 1:49.90, and Greg West finished 19th in 1:50.12, which was nearly three seconds back of the winning total.
The next stop on the World Cup bobsled and skeleton circuit will be in Park City, Utah next weekend. Racing will feature men’s two-man and four-man bobsled, women’s bobsled, and men’s and women’s skeleton.