Whitehall bobsledder drives to Olympic top-10 finish
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — At just 23 years old, Codie Bascue of Whitehall led Team USA in his first Olympic appearance with a ninth-place finish in Pyeongchang’s four-man bobsled competition.
It was the best U.S. finish in the event. Bascue’s team of push athletes consisted of Steve Langton (Melrose, Massachusetts), Evan Weinstock (Las Vegas, Nevada) and Sam McGuffie (Cypress, Texas).
“I think we came in here with a lot of confidence and really wanted to podium,” Bascue said. “I think it’s hard to go into any competition, especially in the Olympic Games, without expecting to do well. We had the tools, but certain things didn’t go our way. Ninth place is still a good start for a first Olympics; I’m happy with that.”
Nick Cunningham (Monterey, California), Chris Kinney (Stockbridge, Georgia), Hakeem Abdul-Saboor (Powhatan, Virginia) and Sam Michener (Gresham, Oregon) finished 19th, followed by Justin Olsen (San Antonio, Texas), Carlo Valdes (Newport Beach, California), Nate Weber (Pueblo West, Colorado) and Chris Fogt (Alpine, Utah) in 20th.
Bascue has been driving since he was 8 years old and realized a dream his grandfather, who was also a bobsledder, was never able to when he was announced to the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. The up-and-coming pilot was supposed to get his feet wet in these games, to learn the ropes of the international stage as a stepping stone to what many hope is a long and lustrous career. Instead, Bascue was thrust to the helm of USA Bobsled when legendary bobsled driver Steven Holcomb passed away unexpectedly on May 6 last year.
“The year started with the passing of Holcomb, and we’re trying to fill that void, and it’s very difficult to do, especially when he’s the face of the sport,” Cunningham said.
While Team USA didn’t medal in men’s bobsled at these games, it was a victory just getting to Pyeongchang after an exhausting and endlessly heartbreaking season. When the team lost its anchor in Holcomb, the only way USA Bobsled knew how to honor him was to keep placing one foot in front of the other. There were some highs, like Bascue’s first-career World Cup win in Lake Placid with McGuffie, and some additional lows, such as Olsen’s emergency appendectomy to start his first games as a pilot and Bascue’s partially torn calf.
“With Holcomb’s passing to start out the year and the uphill battle to get over and try to move on from that this summer, which we did, and as the season started, just more things piled up on us,” Valdes said. “Especially with Justin’s appendectomy and Codie with his calf this week, there are so many things that went into this season that I don’t really want to remember, but you also can’t forget because we just kept fighting and coming back from it and people countlessly kept counting us out, but we kept putting up some results. Obviously this isn’t the result we wanted, but at the same time we’ve been pushing fast all year, and hopefully people see that and it inspires them to come out and join the federation.”
Weinstock, Langton and McGuffie helped power Bascue to the fourth and second fastest start times of today’s two heats, 4.88 and 4.84 seconds, which was an impressive display of athleticism considering Bascue’s injury. Bascue threaded together a first run time of 49.08 seconds to challenge the sled in front of them, but his foot got caught in the D-rings when he loaded into the sled in the final run and it took several corners before he was able to get the push bar down. He remained composed and piloted the crew to the finish in 49.77 seconds for a four-run total of 3:17.28 to secure a top-10 finish.
In what seems to be the theme of these games, it was a tightly contested race for the medals in the fourth and final heat. Germany’s Francesco Friedrich maintained his overnight lead to secure the gold medal with Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thorsten Margis after clocking a combined time of 3:15.85. Germans Nico Walter, Kevin Kuske, Alexander Roediger and Eric Franke tied for silver with Koreans Yunjong Won, Junglin Jun, Youngwoo Seo and Donghyun Kim with a total time of 3:16.38.
Both Team Cunningham and Team Olsen edged pilot Dominik Dvorak from the Czech Republic for a top-20 position in run three to qualify for the final heat.
Three-time Olympian Cunningham and his crew of Abdul-Saboor, Kinney and Michener finished 19th with a four-run aggregate time of 3:18.54. Team Cunningham clocked start times of 4.97 and 4.95 seconds for consistent runs of 49.74 and 49.70 seconds, respectively.
“Even though the 19th place doesn’t really reflect the work we put into it, we’re going to walk out of here pretty happy,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said he’s had his own waves of misfortune this season, including a torn hamstring during team trials and broken equipment. He said it was challenging getting into a new sled while also learning a track he’s never been on.
“To even be here is a feat we won’t take for granted, and we’re happy — but, we lost,” Cunningham said.
Olsen, Weber, Valdes and Fogt pushed a start time of 4.91 seconds in today’s opener, and gave every bit of energy left in the finale for a competitive push of 4.89. Olsen navigated the crew to downtimes of 49.66 and 49.56 seconds to finish 20th with a four-run combined time of 3:18.55, finishing a mere 0.01 seconds behind their teammates. His final run was fourth fastest of the heat, showing his potential as a medal threat.
One of Olsen’s Olympic gold medal teammates from 2010, Steve Mesler, told Olsen when he started driving to aim for the 2022 Beijing Games. Olsen said he thought, “Man, you’re crazy.”
“I don’t know if I could mentally start driving and wait seven years,” Olsen said. “I need to look at this games and realistically say this is a possibility.”
Olsen raced to the 2010 Olympic four-man bobsled gold medal with Holcomb, Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz, and competed as a push athlete again in 2014 as a member of Cunningham’s crew. Pyeongchang was his first games in the driver’s seat, and while Olsen had bigger expectations for himself, there are takeaways from this Olympics that will help him going forward.
“People only remember who got first, second and third. It’s irrelevant that we got 20th place today, and I honestly, I don’t remember what we got in Sochi,” Olsen said. “It wasn’t one, two or three. That fine. When you don’t get first, second or third you look back on what you’re racing for, how you did, how you composed yourself, how you carried yourself through all that stuff.”
The four-man race concludes the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
1. Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thorsten Margis (GER) 3:15.85 (48.54, 49.01, 48.76, 49.54);
2. Yunjong Won, Junglin Jun, Youngwoo Seo and Donghyun Kim (KOR) 3:16.38 (48.65, 49.19, 48.89, 49.65);
2. Nico Walther, Kevin Kuske, Alexander Roediger and Eric Franke (GER) 3:16.38 (48.74, 49.16, 48.90, 49.58);
9. Codie Bascue, Evan Weinstock, Steve Langton and Sam McGuffie (USA) 3:17.28 (49.09, 49.34, 49.08, 49.77);
19. Nick Cunningham, Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, Chris Kinney and Sam Michener (USA) 3:18.54 (49.60, 49.50, 49.74, 49.70);
20. Justin Olsen, Nate Weber, Carlo Valdes and Chris Fogt (USA) 3:18.55 (49.62, 49.71, 49.66, 49.56);