Meyers Taylor drives to gold medal

The top three teams, including the winning Americans, from Friday’s women’s World Cup bobsled race celebrate on the finish ramp at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Veteran United States driver Elana Meyers Taylor and her push athlete Lake Kwaza stand in the middle and are flanked on the left by silver medal winners Christine de Bruin and Kristen Bujnowksi of Canada and the bronze medalists from Germany, Stephanie Schneider and Deborah Levi. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

LAKE PLACID — As one of the best and most experienced women’s bobsled drivers on the planet, Elana Meyers Taylor wanted nothing else more than winning on her home track when the World Cup tour made a stop in Lake Placid on Friday.

The American veteran got her wish, topping the field in the two-heat race at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Teaming with rookie push athlete Lake Kwaza, Meyers Taylor slid to the gold medal for the United States, and she had to come from behind to get the job done.

Meyers Taylor, the silver-medalist at both the last two Winter Olympics, stood in second place after the opening heat and turned in the top time in her second run to top a field of 13 sleds from eight different nations.

German driver Stephanie Schneider and her brakeman Deborah Levi took the lead in the first run with a time of 57.20 seconds, with Meyers Taylor and Lake close behind, just .11 off the pace. The Americans were the next-to-last sled down the track in the next heat and put down a time of 57.48 seconds on that run, and then watched as Schneider fell back to ultimately finish in third place. Canadian pilot Christine de Bruin and her push athlete Kristen Bujnowski took the silver medal in 1:55.17. Schneider drove to the bronze with a 1:55.27 total.

The win was the second straight on the World Cup tour for Meyers Taylor, who reached the podium in six of the seven races in which she has competed. The only time that did not happen for the three-time Olympian was in the season opener in Sigulda, Latvia, due to a disqualification when her sled was overweight. Meyers Taylor said that disqualification has prevented her from winning the World Cup points crown this season, so the focus has turned elsewhere.

Elana Meyers Taylor pilots her sled through the final Curve 19 on the Mount Van Hoevenberg track during the opening run of Friday’s women’s World Cup bobsled race. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“You take your licks, you refocus, you reframe,” she said. “At that moment, we knew we were out of contention for overall, so we had to reset our sights; just focusing on World Championships. Trying different combos, trying different sled setups, going toward that. That’s been our focus this season. It’s been a difficult year. We’re in a rebuilding phase, so to come out here and get a win; super excited.”

Friday marked the fourth time Kwaza has medaled on the brakes for Meyers Taylor this season, but the first time she tasted victory.

“It was my fourth race with her,” said Kwaza, a former track and field sprinter at the University of Iowa. “That was my goal. I wanted to finish top three every chance I got to be in the back of the sled, and so far, so good. It’s amazing, just being at home and getting the gold.”

“Getting Lake a win, I think that’s huge,” Meyers Taylor said. “She did really well, especially that second run. She really brought it. Being confident that we have multiple brakeman that can win on any given day, that’s huge.”

Two other American sleds competed in the women’s race, and Brittany Reinbolt had the top result, placing fifth along with push athlete Jessica Davis. Reinbolt finished with runs of 57.64 and 58.24 and a 1:55.88 total. The result tied Reinbolt’s best showing so far this season, matching her performance in the World Cup season-opener in Latvia.

Codie Bascue rides through Curve 14 on the men’s first run Friday in World Cup racing. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“Obviously when you’re on your home ice, you come in wanting to win it, but after struggling the whole European part of the tour, it was awesome finally to be back in the mix with the top sleds, and back in the top six on the podium,” Reinbolt said. “I’m happy with it, and we still have more North American tracks to go, so more progress can be made.

“I’ve driven here for seven years, and they weren’t anywhere close to amazing runs, these runs were nothing to brag about, but they got the job done good enough for today.”

Nicole Vogt drove the third U.S. sled in her first World Cup appearance of the season. She joined push athlete Briauna Jones to place 11th in 1:56.58, which was 1.79 behind the winning total.

In the men’s race, Whitehall native Codie Bascue was in contention to give the U.S. three medals in three races when he stood in third place following the opening run Friday. With Hakeem Abdul-Saboor on the brakes, Bascue finished the opening run with a time of 56.04 seconds, which was a mere .07 off the leaders Francesco Friedrich and Johannes Lochner, who drove their German sleds to a first-place tie to begin the competition. Bascue, however, had a rough ride through the 14th curve on the second run and skidded through the ensuing straightaway, and wound up in a tie for ninth place.

“I’m really disappointed,” said Bascue, who learned to drive at Mount Van Hoevenberg as a youngster. “I have a lot of friends and family here, and it’s tough not finishing well in front of them. I made some mistakes in the first run and felt like I could make up time in the second heat.”

Bascue and Saboor finished with a 1:53.06 combined time.

Friedrich and his brakeman, Thorsten Margis won the race in 1:52.35.

Romain Heinrich and Dorian Hauterville of France moved up from fifth in the first run to claim the silver in 1:52.63, and Canadians Justin Kripps and Cameron Stones won the bronze, advancing from seventh after the first run to a runner-up total of 1:52.65.

Also for the U.S., Justin Olsen and Josh Williamson placed 14th in 1:53.30, and Geoff Gadbois and Christopher Kinney finished in a tie for 17th place in 1:53.l98. Friday’s race was the World Cup debut for Gadbois, who hails from Milton, Vermont.

Racing continues at Mount Van Hoevenberg today with men’s skeleton and the four-man bobsled competitions.