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Meyers Taylor crashes to heartbreaker at worlds

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Brittany Reinbolt and Lauren Gibbs stepped up Sunday to lead the U.S. squad with a fifth-place finish in the women’s bobsled World Championships in Whistler. 

Elana Meyers Taylor and Lake Kwaza were in second place overnight, but the pair had a heartbreaking end to their medal campaign when they crashed in the third heat. Nicole Vogt and Nicole Brungardt moved up three spots from Saturday after posting the third fastest time of the final heat to finish ninth in their first World Championship appearance.

“At the end of the day, a top five result is good day,” Reinbolt said. “This is my favorite track in the world, and even though I’m kind of new to this level of competition, I wanted to do well here. I’ll take it.”

Reinbolt had only raced in one World Championships previously. She finished 12th in the 2017 World Championships in Koenigssee, Germany, making Saturday’s finish a seven place improvement.

In Saturday’s opening heat, Meyers Taylor set a new track record of 52.48 seconds, 0.18 seconds faster than the former record of 52.66 set by Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Melissa Lotholz three years ago. Reigning Olympic champions Mariama Jamanka and Annika Drazek were first off the start Sunday, and the Germans obliterated Meyers Taylor’s record by nearly half a second with a run of 52.01 seconds. 

Meyers Taylor and Kwaza were 0.13 seconds behind Jamanka and Drazek after day one of racing, and the Americans were eager to reclaim the lead. Meyers Taylor and Kwaza powered the BMW sled off the block in 5.15 seconds, but their World Championship medal campaign came to an abrupt end when they were upended by the notorious 50/50 curve. Corner 13 was nicknamed 50/50 by the late Steven Holcomb after the first day of four-man training in January 2009, when only half the sleds made it through the corner on all four runners. Five teams crashed out of the competition, including Meyers Taylor and Kwaza. 

Jamanka and Drazek were close to becoming the sixth team to crash out of the 50/50 corner in the final heat. The Germans managed to hang on, posting the sixth best time of the run, but finishing 1.06 seconds ahead of the field to take the title with a combined time of 3:30.08. Stephanie Schneider and Ann-Christin Strack claimed silver for Germany with a four-run total of 3:31.14. Christine De Bruin and Kristen Bunjnowksi secured the bronze medal for the host nation with an aggregate time of 3:31.25.

Reinbolt and Gibbs stepped up, powering the Kampgrounds of America sled off the block in 5.24 seconds in today’s first heat. Reinbolt fought to keep the sled straight at the top of the track, but she pulled it back midway down to put the team in contention for the medals with a run of 52.61 seconds. Only seven hundredths of a second separated the Americans from the bronze medal going into the fourth and final heat.

Reinbolt and Gibbs were consistent off the block with a start time of 5.25 seconds, but the Americans could only muster the seventh best time of 52.98 seconds in the final heat. Reinbolt and Gibbs clocked a total time of 3:31.65 to finish fifth.

“I was hoping for some magic to happen, because anything can happen here,” Reinbolt said. “A fifth place is still something to be proud of.”

Vogt and Brungardt were 12th overnight and 12th after the third heat with a downtime of 53.53 seconds after a start time of 5.31. The Americans pushed off the block in 5.34 seconds in the fourth and final heat, and Vogt threaded together a flawless run of 52.73 seconds, eight hundredths of a second faster than their previous slide and third best time of the field. Vogt and Brungardt moved up three spots into ninth with a four-run combined time of 3:32.87. This was the first World Championship appearance for both Vogt and Brungardt.

TEAM EVENT

WHISTLER, British Columbia — USA athletes joined forces to earn the World Championship bronze medal in Whistler on Sunday. The women’s athletes led the way for Team USA. Brittany Reinbolt and Jessica Davis posted the fastest run in women’s bobsled, and the team was bolstered by Savannah Graybill’s third place run in the women’s skeleton heat.

“My mind is blown,” Reinbolt said. “Winning a medal is totally unexpected, and it feels really good to be standing with my teammates on the podium.”

Competitors in men’s skeleton, women’s bobsled, women’s skeleton and men’s two-man bobsled took one run each, and the four runs were combined for a total. The nation with the lowest combined time was declared the winner.

Greg West was the first of the team to take a run in the men’s skeleton heat. He slid to the finish in 53.46 seconds for the sixth best time of the discipline. Reinbolt and Davis were next to the line, and the women’s bobsledders put the team in medal contention by clocking the fastest time of 52.67 seconds in a wild heat. Four of the nine women’s bobsled teams crashed, including recently crowned World Champion Mariama Jamanka from Germany.

“I really wanted to do better than fifth in the women’s race today, so it feels good to come out and do better in the team event,” Reinbolt said. “It’s a crazy track to do three runs in one day, which showed in the women’s bobsled heat. But I love this track, and I drive better when I’m more relaxed. Jessica is a blast to slide with, and I had a lot of fun, which made me slide faster.”

Graybill pushed a personal best start time of 5.05 seconds and raced to the finish in 54.15 seconds for the third best time of the heat to keep Team USA in medal contention. 

“I was super excited, but also anxious,” Graybill said. “There were some holds in the women’s bobsled heat, and by the time it was my turn I just wanted to go already. I settled in after corner two and honestly tried to relax and melt into my sled and let it flow. There’s definitely more in the tank for our race this week.”

Geoff Gadbois and Kris Horn were the final team members to take a run in the men’s bobsled heat. The duo crossed the finish line in 52.21 seconds for the eighth best time, but it was enough to hold on to bronze. Team USA earned the first World Championship medal of 2019 with a combined time of 3:32.49.

“It’s really exciting,” Graybill said. “The team had a lot of fun. We saw some top teams in the world tip over, so it wasn’t easy. The name of the game in Whistler is consistency; you can’t get complacent here.”

Team Germany was victorious with a combined time of 3:31.85. Johannes Lochner and Marc Rademacher were the fastest men’s bobsled team with a run of 51.26 seconds, which propelled the team to the top of the leader board. Christopher Grotheer was just fifth best in the men’s skeleton heat, while Sophia Griebel was second in women’s skeleton. Anna Koehler and Lisa Gericke were fourth in women’s bobsled.

Team Canada secured the silver medal in 3:32.00. Dave Greszczyszyn in men’s skeleton and Christine De Bruin and Kristen Bujnowski in women’s bobsled posted the second best times of their heats. Mirela Rahneva was fifth in the women’s skeleton run, while Nick Poloniato and Keefer Joyce posted the fourth best time in men’s bobsled.

The second U.S. team of Austin Florian, Nicole Vogt, Sylvia Hoffman, Kendall Wesenberg, Hunter Church (Cadyville) and Blaine McConnell finished just off the podium in fourth with a total time of 3:32.88. Skeleton athletes Florian and Wesenberg were the fastest competitors on the team, both posting the fourth fastest times in their respective heats.

TWO-MAN

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Codie Bascue, of Whitehall, and Josh Williamson tied the Dutch for 16th place to lead the U.S. in the men’s two-man bobsled World Championships on Saturday. Hunter Church (Cadyville) and Christopher Kinney maintained 19th place, while Geoff Gadbois and Adrian Adams (Reidsville, N.C.) crashed in the third heat and finished 27th as a result.

“Codie and Hunter had great runs, and I’m extremely happy with how they are driving,” USA Bobsled Head Coach Mike Kohn said. “We have to work on our starts because they are not where they need to be. We have to get better, and it will be a focus this offseason. This is a young team, and we need some more time to mold them.”

Bascue, Church and Gadbois all started their sliding careers in the Lake Placid junior bobsled program. Bascue and Gadbois are both 24 years old, while Church is 22.

Bascue and Williamson were tied for 14th with Austrians Benjamin Maier and Markus Sammer coming into Saturday’s final heats. Maier and Sammer were able to pull away by moving up two spots in the third run. Bascue and Williamson pushed the BMW sled off the block in 4.92 seconds, only 19th best of the field, and Bascue managed to pilot the team to the 17th best downtime of 51.94 seconds. The Americans dropped to 16th going into the fourth and final heat.

Bascue and Williamson clocked a start of 4.93 seconds in the final run. The sled skid between corners one and two, but Bascue was able to bring it back at the bottom. Bascue and Williamson crossed the finish line in 51.99 seconds for a four-run combined time of 3:27.39 to tie for 16th with Ivo De Bruin and Dennis Veenker from the Netherlands.

Germany’s Francesco Friedrich won all eight two-man World Cup races, and he continued his domination by winning the 2019 World Championship title. Friedrich and Thorsten Margis posted the fastest start times in all four runs, and three of the fastest downtimes to secure the crown with a four-run total of 3:24.54. Canadians Justin Kripps and Cameron Stones claimed the silver medal with a combined time of 3:25.13. Nico Walther and Paul Krenz secured another medal for Germany, a bronze, with an aggregate time of 3:25.43.

Church and Kinney were on the cusp of qualifying for the final run after the third heat Saturday. Only the top 20 sleds are eligible for the final run. Church and Kinney were 19th after Friday’s opening heats, and dropped into 20th after the third heat. It was enough to secure the last spot for the fourth run. 

Church and Kinney moved up a spot after a final downtime of 52.21 seconds. The pair finished 19th with a four-run combined time of 3:28.18.

Justin Olsen was scheduled to race, but he is not cleared to slide after an injury sustained during a crash in official training earlier this week. Olsen is expected to make a full recovery, but not in time to race in World Championships. Church was called up to slide in Olsen’s place.

Gadbois and Adams posted a push time of 4.96 seconds to give themselves a chance to move into the top 20. Gadbois struggled to gain control of the sled, and eventually lost the battle. The sled rolled into corner 13, but the team was able to cross the finish line for a time of 54.75 seconds. Gadbois and Adams dropped back into 27th as a result of the crash.

“We’re looking at this as a warm-up for four-man next week,” Kohn said. “Our teams are gelling together and we expect to have better results.”

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