Americans pile up medals at NAC Cup in LP

LAKE PLACID — Hunter Church (Cadyville) and his push crew of Sam Moeller (Houston, Texas), Chris Walsh (Pittsboro, North Carolina) and Jamil Muhammed-Ray (Charlotte, North Carolina) capped the Lake Placid North American Cup on Sunday with a gold medal in the first four-man bobsled race.

Sunday’s four-man gold was the 14th medal and the fifth victory of the week for USA Bobsled & Skeleton athletes.

“It was an incredible team effort this week and I think the entire team is getting better every day,” said USA Bobsled development coach and three-time Olympian Nick Cunningham. “I can’t wait to see what they can do next time they are on ice.”

Church, Moeller, Walsh and Muhammed-Ray were up against an accomplished field of World Cup and Olympic veterans. The rookie crew responded to the challenge with push times of 5.29 seconds, third best of the field, in race one to put the team in the mix off the start block. Church navigated his sled on his home track to the fastest downtime of 55.89 seconds in the first heat, tying the Canadian team of Chris Spring, Darren Lundrigan, Gabriel Chiasson and Cyrus Gray for the lead. 

Church stepped up in the second heat, driving the team to the finish in 55.96 seconds. The run was second best of the heat, just one-hundredth of a second short of the fastest time, but the Americans’ total time of 1:51.85 was 0.01 seconds faster than Spring’s team to give the U.S. gold.

Spring’s team finished in 1:51.86 for silver. Lamin Deen, Ryan Letts, John Baines and Adam Hames from Great Britain claimed bronze in 1:51.96.

“Four-man always a favorite of mine, I seem to feel much more at home once I jump into one.” Church said. “I knew we faced a good challenge against Chris Spring and Lamin Deen, but we carried confidence in ourselves going in, which gave us what we needed. We were able to block out the fact that we were underdogs to these well decorated Olympians.”

Geoff Gadbois (Milton, Vermont), Chris Avery (San Diego, California), Michael Fogt (Alpine, Utah) and Kris Horn (Pembroke, Massachusetts) finished fifth with a combined time of 1:52.42. The crew pushed start times of 5.26 and 5.31, second and fourth best of the field, for runs of 56.20 and 56.22 seconds, respectively.

Bryan Berghorn (Lake Placid) and his all-women’s push crew of Tiffeny Parker (Moreno Valley, California), Lauren McDonald (Roseland, New Jersey) and Yonni McGee (Panama City, Panama) were sixth with a two-run total of 1:54.80. The team clocked starts of 5.86 and 5.88 for runs of 57.32 and 57.48 seconds. Parker and McGee are first-year bobsledders, while McDonald is a rookie skeleton athlete currently training in Lake Placid. Berghorn is a former competitive bobsled driver who now coaches.

“Bryan, Tiffeny, Lauren and Yonni really stepped up big today,” Cunningham said. “Without this team, we would not have had a four-man race due to lack of sleds. This is not the first time Bryan has jumped in to help Team USA and we are extremely thankful. When the team stepped to the line, the crowd grew bigger and louder to cheer them on down the start ramp. All nations stepped out to cheer for them.”

Church, Moeller, Walsh and Muhammed-Ray were in third place after the first heat of Sunday’s second race with a run of 57.17 seconds. They were bumped back into fourth in the final heat, edged out of the medals by British competitors Brad Hall, Alan Toward, Nick Gleeson and Ben Simons. Team Church finished with a total time of 1:54.91, while team Hall clocked a combined time of 1:54.49 for the bronze.

“Our second race wasn’t the greatest,” Church said. “The runs felt ok, but runner selection wasn’t the right one for the afternoon.”

Spring secured gold for Canada in the second race with an aggregate time of 1:54.21, followed by Great Britain’s Deen in silver medal position with a two-run total of 1:54.48.

Gadbois, Avery, Fogt and Horn were close behind their teammates in race two. The team finished fifth with a cumulative time of 1:55.17 after posting runs of 57.33 and 57.84 seconds. Gadbois, Avery, Fogt and Horn clocked the second best start time of the first heat of 5.25 seconds.

Berghorn, Parker, McDonald and McGee were again sixth, this time with a total of 1:57.04. The three-women push crew posted starts of 5.84 and 5.86 seconds for runs of 58.31 and 58.73 seconds, respectively.

“We are still going through some growing pains in the four-man,” Cunningham said. “Like four years ago, we lost a lot of veteran athletes to retirement and we are again working hard to coach and develop many brand new athletes. This is a learning process and as long as we are progressing we are happy. Hunter and Geoff have been working hard to lead their teams and instill a championship mentality.”

The North American Cup will make its fourth and final stop in Calgary, Canada next month with races from Jan. 10-13.

“This rookie class has been full of great energy and everything that they bring to the table looks like nothing but future success for the program,” Church said. “We are excited to regroup and move into the second half in Calgary.”

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SATURDAY

LAKE PLACID — USA Bobsled continued collecting hardware on the North American Cup tour, securing five medals in the women’s and men’s two-man bobsled races in Lake Placid over the last two days. Geoff Gadbois (Milton, Vermont) and Kris Horn (Pembroke, Massachusetts) claimed two silver medals, Frank Del Duca (Bethel, Maine) and Sam Moeller (Houston, Texas) won two bronze medals, while Nicole Vogt (Dallas, Texas) and Tiffeny Parker (Moreno Valley, Calif.) contributed a bronze medal.

“We rebounded strongly from a couple of pretty disappointing Park City, Utah races,” said USA Bobsled development coach and three-time Olympian Nick Cunningham. “This week we moved some personnel around to gain more data. The first year of the quad is really about testing different athletes in different positions to maximize their potential. Coach (Mike) Dionne and I are proud of this team and how far they have all come since national team trials. We will continue to work on preparing all of these athletes for future World Cup competition.”

Gadbois and Horn were consistent from start to finish Friday with nearly identical push times of 5.30 and 5.29 seconds and downtimes of 56.47 and 56.48 seconds. The duo clocked a total time of 1:52.95 to claim their first silver medal of the Lake Placid stop.

“I am very happy to finish where I did,” Gadbois said. “Anytime you’re behind a three-time Olympian it can be considered a success.”

Gadbois said he’s had a tough week, crashing during four-man bobsled training on Wednesday, which resulted in three stitches half an inch from his left eye.

“We bounced right back into the two-man on Thursday to qualify,” Gadbois said.

Del Duca, racing in just his first season as a pilot, teamed with Moeller for the bronze medal with a two-run total of 1:53.31. Del Duca and Moeller were close to the fastest team off the start, Lamin Deen and Ryan Letts of Great Britain, with the second-best push times of 5.24 and 5.28 seconds. Del Duca navigated his sled to the finish in 56.51 and 56.80 seconds to challenge his teammates in second.

“We lost a lot of time at the start yesterday, and fixed that today, which is great,” Del Duca said. “The team came together, doing all of the behind the scenes tasks to lighten the load on the athletes that were racing. We’re all working hard, working together and making progress.”

Hunter Church and Derek Crittenden posted a combined time of 1:53.90 after racing to the finish in 56.68 and 57.22 seconds for fifth place. Tyler Hickey and Chris Avery were eighth in 1:54.91 (57.40, 57.51).

Canadians Chris Spring and Darren Lundrigan, who have a wealth of experience on the Lake Placid track, were victorious in 1:52.16. They repeated their gold medal finish Saturday, winning in 1:52.28.

Gadbois and Horn challenged the Canadians for the lead, posting the fastest split times until the end of the track. The pair earned a second silver medal with a total time of 1:53.08 with runs of 56.60 and 56.48 seconds. Gadbois and Horn were again consistent at the start with push times of 5.36 and 5.34.

“I gambled with equipment and the first run didn’t go as planned,” Gadbois said. “I was able to move up on the second run, and I’m happy with the two second place finishes.”

Del Duca and Moeller were just 0.06 seconds behind their teammates in third. Saturday, the pair was the fastest team off the start with push times of 5.24 and 5.27 seconds. Just months into his driving career, Del Duca piloted his sled to the finish to the second and third best times of the day, 56.44 and 56.70 seconds, respectively. 

“We had second in our grasp today after the first run, but I made a critical mistake early in the second run and we dropped to third,” Del Duca said. “It’s tough having silver slip through our hands, but we are hungry to continue to improve.”

Church and Crittenden were fifth with a total time of 1:53.67 (56.56, 56.71), while Hickey and Jamil Muahmmed-Ray (Charlotte, N.C.) finished seventh in 1:54.88 (57.31, 57.57).

In the women’s race, Vogt and Parker claimed silver yesterday with a two-run total time of 1:56.65. The pair was fourth best off the block, 5.84 and 5.85, for runs of 58.25 and 58.40 seconds. 

Mica McNeill and Montell Douglas from Great Britain were victorious in 1:56.16, while Kori Hol and Wildon Richardson from Canada were third in 1:57.82. 

McNeill and Aleasha Kiddle were golden again today, winning with a combined time of 1:56.07. Canadians Catherine Medeiros and Andreanne Frigon were second in 1:59.26, while teammates Cynthia Serwaah and Stefanie Schoenberger claimed bronze in 2:00.31. 

Vogt and Yonni McGee (Panama City, Panama) teamed together Saturday for fourth place with an aggregate time of 2:00.90. The duo was on pace for a medal finish, but a technical problem with the Bodyn sled caused them to crash on the lower portion of the track. Vogt and McGee crossed the finish line in 1:02.23 and went back to the start. They were able to fix the sled between heats, and the pair rallied back in run two with the second fastest time of the heat, 58.67 seconds. 

“Nicole is still trying to get comfortable in a new-to-her sled,” Cunningham said. “We have been fighting with her driving lines all week and in run one today, the real issue presented itself as her steering came loose, causing her to crash. Nicole and Yonni showed their perseverance today as they raced back to a fourth place finish.”

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