West races to his first national title

LAKE PLACID — Greg West secured his first USA Skeleton National Championship title Friday at Mount Van Hoevenberg, winning the men’s competition by 0.69 seconds. Four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender claimed the fifth national title of her lengthy career after taking the women’s crown.

The title was West’s first, and was especially validating after just missing qualification as the third sled for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team. After the Olympic Team was named in January, West switched sleds and said his new setup has been working well for him.

“Since I started skeleton, this has been one of the boxes I’ve wanted to check off,” West said. “Really though, I’m happy to have put down four consistent runs. I think we’re onto something with this new sled. I started with this sled the day after the Olympic Team announcement with the mindset that the new Olympic quad starts today. Since then, I’ve set new personal bests in both Lake Placid and Park City, Utah, so that’s a good sign.”

After holding a first place lead overnight, West strung together downtimes of 53.87 and 54.10 seconds for a four-run combined time of  3:36.10 to extend his lead over Austin Florian, who took second. Florian threw down the fastest run of the first heat today, 53.83 seconds, and then finished his competition with a downtime of 54.63 to finish behind only West. Florian also pushed the fastest start time of the men’s field in three out of the four heats. His 4.88-second start was second fastest of the first heat, and he powered his sled off the blocks to a 4.89-second push in the final heat, the fastest of the run.

Florian sat in third after Thursday’s opening heats, but moved up over third place finisher Kyle Brown (Concord, New Hampshire), who had a tough final run and mustered just the 12th-fastest time of the heat. Brown otherwise had a stellar race and was able to fend off fourth place finisher Alex Ivanov with a 3:38.62 four-run combined time. Ivanov’s 3:39.37 time topped Mike Rogals and Stephen Garbett, who took fifth and sixth in 3:39.77 and 3:39.98, respectively.

Uhlaender won her first national championship in 2003, and has since made four Olympic teams, won a World Championship title, two overall World Cup titles and 11 World Cup medals. Her most recent national championships appearance was 2011, when she finished second.

Uhlaender was also testing equipment Friday, and said it’s been a learning process this week.

“I feel like the race was yesterday, and today I got on a new setup and started testing,” Uhlaender said Friday. “I’m getting some good feedback, so that’s encouraging. This week, the crowd was amazing, my teammates were amazing, and it was just a lot of fun to come out and finish the season this way.”

Uhlaender sat in first place overnight after throwing down the fastest two heats of the women’s field on day one of the competition. Her 55.28 and 55.29-second runs gave her 0.53 seconds to work with heading into Friday’s finale. Second place finisher Savannah Graybill was able to close the gap with the second fastest run of the first heat today and the fastest run of the second, but Uhlaender maintained a 0.24-second lead after runs of 55.36 and 55.58 seconds, the third fastest of each heat. The four-time Olympian finished with a four-run combined time of 3:41.51. The two-time national champion Graybill, meanwhile, threaded together runs of 55.19 and 55.46 seconds to maintain her second place position that she held overnight with a total time of 3:41.75.

“It felt good to end the season on a high note,” Graybill said. “Obviously you want to come out and win, but I was happy with my runs today. It’s been such a long season, and not qualifying for the Olympics was pretty tough, so I’m just proud that I was able to come back and rally back.”

Megan Henry took third place after two strong runs Friday, which included the fastest run of the first heat. Henry clocked start times of 5.29 and 5.28 seconds, the fastest of each of Friday’s heats, en route to downtimes of 55.16 and 55.55.

To round out the women’s field, Sam Culiver finished fourth with a four-run combined time of 3:43.32, Gracie Clapp Taylor took fifth in 3:44.04 and rookie Sara Roderick turned in an impressive sixth place performance in her first-ever race with a combined time of 3:46.02.