US places 11th in Whistler World Cup

WHISTLER, Canada — Nick Cunningham turned in the top finish for United States men’s bobsledders Friday, finishing 11th in the two-man World Cup competition on the 20100 Olympic run in Whistler, British Columbia. Cunninghmam, of Monterey, California, teamed with 2012 Olympian Ryan Bailey (Portland, Oregon) in the race.

A two-time Olympian, Cunningham competed on the harrowing Whistler track in last year’s four-man World Cup race and two-man and four-man North American Cup (NAC) races, but struggled in each competition, posting his worst results of the NAC season. Cunningham said he felt more comfortable on the fastest track in the world Friday.

“I call it the Whistler speedway,” Cunningham said. “It’s such a fun track when it’s done right, but it can unravel quickly. We came out here wanting to win everything, to conquer this track, and I think we built up our confidence this week. I was really struggling on every single run here last year. I was making little mistakes that compounded into big issues, so coming back here and putting together some of the pieces really helped me build momentum.”

Cunningham and Bailey powered the KOA-branded BMW-made sled off the block for identical 4.81-second start times, the second and fifth fastest of the first and second heats, to post 52.26 and 52.21 downtimes, respectively. Cunningham’s second heat drive was especially strong, as he separated himself from Loic Costerg of France after the two sleds sat just 0.01 apart between heats.

Cunningham will not compete in today’s four-man race, instead heading back to home ice in Park City, Utah, to race in both NAC races in an attempt to accumulate more Olympic qualification points.

“Going back to Park City is a strategic move,” Cunningham said. “It’s’what’s best for the team to make sure we qualify three sleds for the Olympics. It won’t be an easy race, because a lot of teams will be going back to Park City in an effort to gain points, but we’re going to throw down and see if can’t add some insurance to our spot.”

Canadians swept the top two postitions on their home track. Chris Spring and Neville Wright claimed gold for the host nation with a two-run total of 1:44.17, edging teammates Justin Kripps and Alexander Kopacz by just 0.02 seconds. Latvians Oskars Melbardis and Daumonts Dreiskens finished third in 1:44.26.

Whitehall’s Codie Bascue entered Friday’s race as the two-man World Cup points leader after earning gold and bronze medals in Lake Placid’s season-opener two weeks ago. Bascue teamed with Sam McGuffie (Cypress, Texas) in the Under Armour-branded BMW-made sled for 16th place Friday with a combined time of 1:45.08. Bascue and McGuffie were in 14th position after a first run of 52.35 seconds, but a major skid in the chicane before curve nine resulted in a second run time of 52.73, bumping the crew back two spots. Bascue and McGuffie clocked identical starts of 4.82 seconds in the two heat race, third and seventh fastest of the field.

Hunter Church of Cadyville made his World Cup debut as a driver alongside Hakeem Abdul-Saboor (Powhatan, Virginia). Church and Abdul-Saboor pushed a 4.91-second start time for a run of 52.77 seconds, 24th best of the heat, missing the top-20 cutoff for run two. Church replaced Justin Olsen, who stayed in Park City for an extra week of training before racing in next week’s North American Cup.