LAKE PLACID - United States bobsled and skeleton athletes earned 15 medals in the North American Cup finale held in Lake Placid over the past four days to conclude the tour with a total of 57 medals. Teams in each of the five disciplines raced in a series of nine competitions throughout the year, and wrapped up the international sliding season with the eighth and ninth races at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Bree Schaaf. a 2010 Vancouver Olympian from Bremerton, Wash., teamed with push athletes Cherrelle Garrett (Hayward, Calif.) and Kristi Koplin (Cedar City, Utah) to sweep the women's bobsled races. Orchard Park's Katelyn Kelly joined Ida Bernstein (Cockeysville, Md.) to earn bronze in the first race, while Berit Tomten (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Valerie Smith (Wyandottw, Mich.) added silver to their season total in the finale. Skeleton competitors Samantha Culiver (Scottsdale, Ariz.) and Austin McCrary (Colleyville, Texas) contributed bronze and silver medals, respectively, to the overall count. Whitehall's Codie Bascue led his team to four medal finishes, including two gold in the four-man competitions. Jake Peterson (Princeton, Minn.) and Jay Noller (San Antonio, Texas) helped the U.S. complete a sweep in the four-man races, and Peterson added an additional silver medal to the tally in the two-man event.
Schaaf was victorious in all seven races she entered this season and claimed the 2013 North American Cup title. Schaaf spent this season regaining strength after hip surgery last spring, and said she feels refreshed after a year on the North American Cup tour.
Jay Noller pilots his four-man sled with a crew of Caleb Pelger, Jake Arnold and Adrian Chapman during Saturday’s North America Cup race at Mount Van Hoevenberg. The team finished with two bronze medals for the United States after capturing third in the race and adding a second third-place finish on Sunday.
(Photo — Jason Hicks-Moriarty)
"It was good to take a step back to a scenario where I have to be self-sufficient and maintain my own equipment,," Schaaf said. "I had to assess things on my own, but it was a great opportunity to gain some balance going into next season."
Schaaf teamed with first-year competitor Garrett to earn gold on Wednesday with a combined time of 1:56.81. The duo posted runs of 58.52 and 58.29 to convincingly lead the field by nearly one second over the British team of Mica McNeill and Lucy Onyeforo. Americans Kelly and Bernstein claimed their third North American Cup medal of the season after capturing bronze with a total time of 1:59.46.
Schaaf partnered with season long brakeman Koplin to lead the field by a whopping 1.70 seconds in the finale. They crossed the finish line in 58.35 and 58.51 seconds for a two-run total of 1:56.86. Schaaf earned six of her seven medals this season with Koplin in the backseat.
"Kristi did a phenomenal job this season," Schaaf said. "She pushed her heart out every day, and she has the most upbeat attitude. It's been a lot of fun racing and traveling with her, and I can't thank her enough for all of her help."
Tomten claimed her third medal this season with Smith after finishing second with a combined time of 1:58.56. Tomten and Smith were able to hold off McNeill and Onyeforo by 0.21 seconds to earn silver, and Tomten concluded the season ranked third in overall points. Kelly and Bernstein wrapped up their season in sixth with a total time of 1:59.98.
The Canadians swept the women's skeleton races. Elisabeth Vathje was victorious the first day with a total time of 1:53.05, while Jane Channell posted a combined time of 1:53.26 to claim gold in the second race. Katharine Eustace from New Zealand slid silver medal performances both days with totals of 1:53.06 and 1:53.73. Channell clocked a two-run total of 1:53.12 to earn bronze the first day.
Culiver captured her first career international medal in the last North American Cup stop in Whistler, Canada, and followed up her performance with a bronze medal in the finale on Friday. She posted a personal best time on Thursday, but was disappointed to finish fifth. Culiver regrouped, and smashed her personal best time in Friday's first heat with a run of 56.70 seconds to put her in medal position. Culiver finished just behind Eustace to earn bronze with a two-run total of 1:53.86.
"I think I was more relaxed," Culiver said. "I tried to focus on what I needed to do and didn't let myself overthink my runs. I've been dealing with a hip injury, but I've been giving it everything I have at the start. I knew that if I could keep my runs clean I could get into the medals, and I was really happy to post a personal best time and finish third."
Caitlin Carter (Carrollton, Texas) posted a blazing run of 56.36 seconds to lead after the first heat of the first race and showed potential for what's to come for the developing athlete.
"It felt smooth and natural, and I didn't have to think about it," Carter said. "I had fun with it."
A few minor mistakes by the rookie in the second heat bumped her into fourth position with a total time of 1:53.33. Carter was again in medal position after the first heat in the second race, but she ultimately finished sixth with a combined time of 1:54.12.
Lauren Salter (Idyllwild, Calif.) posted total times of 1:54.51 and 1:54.06 to finish sixth and fourth, respectively. Culiver, Carter and Salter were awarded a medal for their top six finishes.
Noelle Pikus-Pace (Orem, Utah) raced on the North American Cup circuit earlier this season to earn qualification points to race on the World Cup tour. While Pikus-Pace only raced in four of the nine competitions, she finished fourth in overall standings thanks to three medal performances.
Russian Pavel Kulikov earned double gold medals in the men's skeleton races after clocking combined times of 1:49.63 and 1:50.15. Barrett Martineau claimed silver in the first race with a two-run total of 1:49.99, and Sean Greenwood from Ireland was 0.92 seconds behind Martineau to claim bronze. Rookie Michael Rogals (Orwell, Vt.) raced in his first international competition on Thursday and clocked a two-run total of 1:50.92 to lead the U.S. men.
McCrary rebounded from his seventh place finish on Thursday by claiming silver in Friday's finale. McCrary said he didn't feel any pressure after not medaling in the first race and was able to relax, which resulted in both a personal best push and finish time in the ninth competition of the circuit.
"Being relaxed makes it easier," McCrary said. "I'm really happy with a personal best push and down time. If it was on the same run, that'd be better, but I'm happy with anything."
McCrary clocked runs of 54.96 and 55.44 seconds for a total time of 1:50.40 to earn his fourth medal this season. He narrowly missed the top three standings, and finished the season ranked fourth overall. Alex Ivanov (Calisle, Mass.) was also awarded a medal for finishing sixth with an aggregate time of 1:51.93.
"This was a great year in terms of continuing to develop athletes," said U.S. skeleton North American Cup coach Rebecca Sorensen. "The schedule allowed for us to take on brand new tracks for both racing and training. Most of our athletes at this level are trying new equipment and learning what works for them and what doesn't. We had 11 top three finishes this season, and I am excited for these athletes to return next year as faster, stronger and smarter sliders."
The Korean team of Yunjong Won and Junglin Jun were tough to beat in the men's two-man bobsled races, and swept Lake Placid races with cumulative times of 1:53.91 and 1:53.65. Peterson and Dakarai Kongela (Squamish, Wash.) nabbed silver with a total time of 1:54.24 in the first race, followed closely by Bascue and Michael McCarty (Hudson, Ohio) in third.
Bascue paired with national team push athlete Nic Taylor (Hayward, Calif.) in the final two-man race of the season. Bascue and Taylor inched closer to Won and Jun to earn silver with a combined time of 1:54.36. Ivo de Bruin and Bror van der Zijde from the Netherlands were a mere 0.02 seconds behind the Americans to claim bronze. Peterson teamed with Samuel Michiner (Gresham, Ore.) to finish fifth.
Colin Coughlin (Fishkill) and Dallas Irvin (Salt Lake City, Utah) were sixth in the first race, while Noller and Jake Arnold (Azusa, Calif.) rounded out the top six in the second competition.
The Americans swept the podium in both four-man bobsled races to wrap up a tremendous season of international competition. Bascue and his powerful push team of Michiner, Taylor and McCarty posted combined times of 1:50.73 and 1:50.86 for double gold medal performances. Peterson partnered with Harry Lightsey (Kiawah Island, S.C.), David Cremin (Annandale, Va.) and Kongela to finish close behind Bascue's team in both races after clocking two-run totals of 1:50.97 and 1:51.27. Bascue and Peterson learned the sport together and continue to push each other's development in every competition.
National team pilot Nick Cunningham attended the North American Cup as a coach, and said the friendly rivalry between Bascue and Peterson reflects the relationship he has with fellow driver Cory Butner. Cunningham and Butner battled it out for the America's Cup title last season, and continued to push one another this season as World Cup pilots, which resulted in a handful of medal performances.
"I really do see Cory and myself in Jake and Codie," Cunningham said. "It's easy to get complacent in this sport, and our rivalry pushes us to be better every day. I see this in Jake and Codie, and they really drive one another to race at their best, and either one of them could win on any given day. They both had some of their best performances this weekend, and it's helping to strengthen Team USA."
"Having a teammate that can push you to post your best times to win definitely fires me up," Bascue said.
Noller teamed with Caleb Pelger (Cleveland, Ohio), Arnold and Adrian Chapman (Ozark, Mo.) for aggregate times of 1:51.71 and 1:52.33 to earn bronze medals both days. Coughlin, Hunter Church (Cadyville), Irvin and Thomas White (Dallas, Texas) completed the top six in the finale with a total time of 1:52.87.
Bascue concluded a stellar season of men's bobsled racing by earning 17 medals this season to win the 2013 North American Cup title in two-man standings, four-man standings and in combined standings. Peterson finished second in two-man, third in four-man and second in combined, while Noller finished third in two-man and combined points.
The North American Cup races in Lake Placid concluded the 2012-2013 international sliding season. Action will resume on Tuesday and Wednesday with the U.S. National Skeleton Championships.