Home cookin’ on home ice
Bobsled/Skeleton World Cup tour returns from Europe with stop in Lake Placid
LAKE PLACID — Elana Meyers Taylor is excited for the opportunity to battle the Europeans on home ice. Brittany Reinbolt is happy not to be sitting inside in an office. And Hunter Church is thrilled to have the chance to drive his “bus” not far away from where he grew up.
This weekend, the bobsled and skeleton tour is in Lake Placid for its seventh event of the season, and Meyers Taylor, Reinbolt and Church are among the United States pilots hoping to shine in front of the home fans when they hurtle down the track at Mount Van Hoevenberg at speeds of more than 80 mph.
Meyers Taylor and Reinbolt will compete Friday in the two-heat women’s bobsled race, and Church will step on the track with his crew as one of the three American drivers competing in the four-man bobsled field that features more than 20 sleds.
Competition kicks off Friday at 8:30 a.m. with the women’s two-heat skeleton race, and will be followed by the two-man and women’s bobsled competitions, which also include two runs. Saturday’s racing begins at 9 a.m., and features men’s skeleton and the four-man bobsled events.
The races in Lake Placid are the next-to-last World Cup stop of the season, which ends next weekend in Calgary, Alberta. The final race of the winter, as well as the most significant competition of the year will be the 2019 IBSF World Championships in Whistler, British Columbia starting on Feb. 25.
Meyers Taylor and Reinbolt said they didn’t quite meet their expectations during the World Cup outings in Europe, and both are hoping to turn the tables on a track they know the best.
“I’m excited to be back, excited to be on the home track and looking forward to the weekend,” said Meyers Taylor, who has driven to the silver medal in the last two Winter Olympics. “The Germans have been tough all season, so I’m going to try to give them a run for their money here.”
After missing the first World Cup race of the season, Meyers Taylor reached the podium in the next five races but only stood on the top step once, which was two weeks ago in St. Moritz, Switzerland. As the most veteran pilot on Team USA, Meyers Taylor currently ranks fifth in the World Cup standings and Reinbolt is seventh.
“It’s been a decent year, but not actually the year I expected,” Meyers Taylor said prior to Tuesday’s training runs at Mount Van Hoevenberg. “I expected more in the win column. I’m going to try to put together a good race this weekend and go into worlds confident.”
When it comes to the key to success on the run, Meyers Taylor stated the formula simply.
“Push fast and drive well,” she said.
Following the retirement of 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Greubel Poser, Reinbolt has stepped into the second position among the U.S. pilots. She’ll be looking to better the career-best result of fifth place she posted in this winter’s World Cup opener Dec. 7 in Sigulda, Latvia.
Reinbolt is a native of Riverside, California who began her journey into bobsledding as a push athlete in 2011 and moved into the driver’s seat during the 2012-13 season. She is currently in her third winter competing in World Cup events.
“I love it,” Reinbolt said. “We get to get in the sled and slide down the hill going up to 90 miles an hour. It’s fun. It beats sitting in an office somewhere.”
Prior to this week, Reinbolt and her teammates spent last week getting in training runs in Lake Placid. Reinbolt was also on this track during the preseason, vying for a spot on the World Cup tour at the U.S. National Team trials races. Reinbolt said there are a lot of new faces competing for the U.S. in this post-Olympic season as the Americans begin building toward the next Winter Games in 2022 in Beijing, China.
“It’s been hard getting back after a post-Olympic year. It’s the first year of a quad and there are a lot of adjustments that our team is doing,” she said. “We have a lot of new rookies. We’re just finding out who we are, who our team is and moving forward from there is a big part. It’s been a struggle performance-wise for everybody on the U.S. team this season. We’re hoping to change that this week.
“My season has been OK,” Reinbolt continued. “It hasn’t been the best by any means but I keep plugging away, and it’s not over yet. There’s still work to do, and hopefully a lot of good things ahead.”
In addition to Meyers Taylor and Reinbolt, the U.S. women will also be represented by Nicole Vogt, who will pilot the third American sled in Friday’s women’s bobsled race. It will be the first World Cup appearance of the season for the 31-year-old Vogt, who is a native of Wichita, Kansas and lives in Dallas, Texas.
A little more than a year ago, Church came through with a monumental achievement in Lake Placid on bobsledding’s North American Cup tour when he claimed victory in a four-man race, which ultimately allowed the U.S. to enter a third sled in that discipline at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Fast forwarding to this week will see the North Country native racing on a bigger stage as the 22-year-old appears for the first time in World Cup racing in Lake Placid.
Church has two World Cup races under his belt from a season ago in Whistler, and he’ll compete solely in four-man again. He’s a third-generation bobsledder who punched his ticket into Saturday’s race by putting down two clean training runs on Tuesday.
“It’s my first World Cup on home ice so I couldn’t be more excited,” said Church, a Saranac Central graduate from Cadyville. “I’m super excited to get this chance. It’s just a dream opportunity. Four man is my favorite discipline. That’s what I helped qualify our team for Pyeongchang, but this is the World Cup. It’s just a different atmosphere. A different realm. I want to go out there and just perform my best. I’m just going to leave it all out there. That’s all you can do.”
Church enters Saturday’s race ranked third in the North American Cup four-man standings and explained if he performs well in Lake Placid and at the World Cup season finale in Calgary, he can earn a trip to Whistler and the World Championships.
“What’s really cool too is I’m a third-generation bobsledder. My dad slid, and my great uncle slid in the 40s,” he said. “The Olympics and World Championships are the biggest stage for our sport, and hopefully I’ll be the first Church to bring the name to that level.
“I also race two-man, but I’m just doing four-man here, which is great because I just get to focus on my favorite discipline,” he added. “The two-man’s your sports car. The four-man is your bus, and I love driving the bus.”
Also piloting sleds for the American men this week are Olympians Codie Bascue and Justin Olsen, an up-and-coming 24-year-old driver from Milton, Vermont.
Bascue, a native of Whitehall, is a three-time World Cup medalist who won the two-man gold in November, 2017 in Lake Placid in the opening World Cup races for that season.
The U.S. will also enter five athletes in the skeleton races, with Kendall Wesenberg and Savannah Graybill competing for the women Friday and Austin Florian, Kyle Brown and Greg West sliding in Saturday’s men’s competition.
Wesenberg currently is ninth in the women’s World Cup standings and Graybill follows in 15th. Brown is the top U.S. male athlete with a 12th place ranking and West is 15th.