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Bascue guides American four-man sled to 11th

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Codie Bascue, Jimmy Reed, Josh Williamson and Christopher Kinney finished 11th as the top American team in Saturday’s four-man bobsled World Championships in Whistler. Hunter Church, Kyler Allison, Blaine McConnell and Kyle Wilcox finished their first World Championship appearance in 16th.

“I crashed here in the North American Cup race to start the season, so it feels really good to throw down eight solid runs here to end the season,” said Bascue, of Whitehall. “For the most part this season hasn’t gone the way we wanted, but I’ve been really proud of how I’ve driven the sled over these last two weeks and how well the team has pushed. We only had a few runs together and we came together really well.”

Hakeem Abdul-Saboor was named to Bascue’s team, but he was unable to race due to an injury. Kinney, of Stockbridge, Georgia, stepped in and the crew took little time to mesh, consistently posting top six push times of the field.  

Bascue, Williamson (Lake Mary, Florida), Reed (Garmisch, Germany) and Kinney powered the Under Armour wrapped sled off the block in 4.81 seconds and Bascue navigated the crew to the finish in 50.80 seconds. The Americans were only 0.06 seconds from the German sled driven by Johannes Lochner, but the Canadian sled piloted by Chris Spring moved ahead of Lochner and Bascue to bump the Germans into 10th and the Americans into 11th going into the fourth and final run.

The American crew left nothing behind in the finale, combining efforts for a better start time of 4.78 second. Bascue made a vital mistake en route to the finish, but the team maintained position with a time of 51.05 seconds. Bascue, Williamson, Reed and Kinney finished 11th with a four-run combined time of 3:23.44.

“The speed wasn’t there,” Bascue said. “We’re going into the last month of the season where we can work on some things, and then we can work on gaining strength and speed during the offseason. I think we can find the speed before next season.”

Germany’s Francesco Friedrich made history Saturday, sweeping the two and four-man bobsled World Championships. Friedrich was the defending two and four-man World Champion and he’s the reigning two and four-man Olympic champion. Friedrich teamed with Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thorsten Margis to secure the title with a combined time of 3:21.33. Latvians Oskars Kibermanis, Matiss Miknis, Arvis Vilkaste and Janie Strenga finished 0.29 seconds behind the Germans to claim the silver medal in 3:21.62. Canadians Justin Kripps, Ryan Sommer, Cameron Stones and Benjamin Coakwell earned the bronze medal for the host nation with a combined time of 3:21.78.

Church, of Cadyville, Allison (Austin, Texas), McConnell (Tacoma, Wash.) and Wilcox (Tampa, Florida) had another strong effort Saturday in the sled dedicated to Project Play. The crew matched their best start yesterday in the third heat with a time of 4.86 seconds, and Church piloted the team to the finish in 50.93 seconds for the 13th best time of the field. 

Church, Allison, McConnell and Wilcox posted a start time of 4.90 seconds in the final run en route to a downtime of 51.13 seconds. All four athletes finished their World Championship debut in 16th place with a four-run combined time of 3:24.07.

Bascue and Church both started their careers in the Lake Placid junior bobsled program. At just 24 and 22-years-old, respectively, Bascue and Church are still in the infancy of their careers. 

The U.S. team will travel back to home ice in Lake Placid to close out the season with USA National Championships, which will be held March 22-23.

FRIDAY

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Savannah Graybill posted the top American finish of eighth place in the women’s skeleton World Championships in Whistler on Friday, bettering her best finish of the season by three spots. Kendall Wesenberg maintained 11th place, and Megan Henry wrapped up her World Championships in 18th.

“It’s been a crazy season,” Graybill said. “There has been so much improvement, and a lot of ups and downs. Taking all of that into account, I’m happy that I was able to come into worlds and put together two solid runs and have a personal best time. I can’t ask for much more.”

Caleb Smith joined the team as the USA Skeleton Technical and Development Lead Coach this season and has given the athletes a new approach to sliding. That often meant leaving behind habits and lines the athletes have learned over their careers, which sometimes felt like taking a step backwards. Graybill said the new perspective has made her a better slider.

“It’s hard to go backwards before you can move forwards,” Graybill said. “You want everything to be a forward progression, but you have to take the bumps and bruises first. They will heal and you’ll come out stronger for it. I’m happy to end the season feeling stronger than when I started.”

Graybill was tied with Russian Yulia Kanakina for seventh place entering Friday’s final heats. The American put together a first run start time of 5.06 for only the 11th best downtime of 53.85 seconds, which allowed Kanakina to move ahead. Graybill responded with a start time of 5.04 seconds in the final run and raced to the finish in 53.69 seconds for the fastest time of her four heats and the seventh best of the field. Graybill accumulated a total time of 3:35.63 for eighth place.

Graybill’s best World Cup finish of the season was 12th on home ice in Lake Placid, last month, making Friday’s eighth place in World Championships her best result of 2018-2019.

Team Germany swept the women’s medals. Tina Hermann was victorious by 0.38 seconds with a combined time of 3:33.03. Jacqueline Loelling threatened to take the lead with a track record run of 53.10 seconds in the final heat, but she ultimately finished second to her teammate with a total time of 3:33.41. Sophia Griebel completed Germany’s sweep with an aggregate time of 3:34.20.

USA’s Wesenberg had her fastest start in run three by pushing her sled off the block in 4.98 seconds. She entered Friday in 11th position, and bolstered her chances of moving into the top 10 with the ninth best time of 53.81 seconds. Wesenberg clocked a start of 5.01 in the final heat and raced to the finish in 53.88 seconds to the cheers from friends and family that made the trek to Canada to see her race. Wesenberg just missed the top 10, finishing 11th with a combined time of 3:36.12.

Henry maintained her overnight position to finish 18th in her second career World Championships. She matched her best start of 4.91 seconds in the third run and raced to the finish with the 16th best downtime of 54.39 seconds. Henry slipped at the start in run two resulting in a push time of 4.99 seconds, and she crossed the final timing eye in 54.43 seconds for a four-run combined time of 3:37.93.

Skeleton

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Austin Florian raced to an eighth place finish in his men’s skeleton World Championship debut Friday on one of the world’s fastest and most technical tracks in Whistler to lead the U.S. in his rookie season. USA teammates Greg West and Kyle Brown finished their World Championships in 16th and 19th, respectively.

“I am over the moon right now,” Florian said. “I can’t believe I was able to pull this off this year.”

Florian wasn’t fazed overnight by the number of experienced and accomplished competitors that were aiming to take his spot in the top 10 in day two of racing. If anything, it fueled him. The 24-year-old stepped up, posting his best start time of the competition so far of 4.52 seconds and threading together a smooth run of 52.17 seconds that was sixth best of the third heat to move him up one spot.

“I’ve got to keep moving up,” Florian said after the run. 

Florian powered off the block in the final heat with a push time of 4.51 seconds, only 0.03 seconds from the track’s nine-year start record, which was broken later in the competition. The up-and-coming American slid to the finish in 52.56 seconds for a total of 3:30.22 to finish eighth in his World Championship debut. 

“I just can’t believe it,” Florian said. “I did some good recovery last night, and the staff was a huge help to get me race ready again. I owe a lot to them.”

Florian has competed in 15 events this season, including World Championships. After earning a national team berth earlier this season, the coaches decided to send Florian to the North American Cup and European Cup to gain experience on tracks he’s never raced in his young career. He’d already competed in seven international races before making his World Cup debut in December. While it was exhausting, Florian thinks the decision contributed to his success.

“I’m very happy with the decision and to have those races to learn the European tracks,” Florian said. “It not only helped me this year, but it will help me in the future as well. It was a hard decision to make, but it was the right one.”

Latvia’s Martins Dukurs broke the start record in the final run with a push time of 4.47 seconds en route to capturing his sixth World Championship title. Dukurs won by 0.51 seconds over Russian Nikita Tregubov with a combined time of 3:28.11. Trgubov posted a total time of 3:28.62, followed by Korean and reigning Olympic champion Sungbin Yun in third with an aggregate time of 3:28.99.

USA’s West moved up two spots today. He matched his first heat start time of 4.70 seconds, 21st of the field, and slid to the finish with the 17th best time of 52.78 seconds. West moved up another spot in the finale after clocking a 4.71 start time for a downtime of 52.73 seconds. He finished with a four-run combined time of 3:31.36 for 16th. While West is disappointed with his finish in the individual men’s skeleton race, he is leaving Whistler with the World Championship bronze medal from the team event last weekend.

Only the top 20 competitors after the third heat are granted a fourth run and Brown was the final slider to qualify. Brown found redemption in the final run, posting his best start time of 4.60 and his best downtime of 52.70 seconds to move up into 19th with a combined time of 3:31.76.