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Meyers Taylor among opening day push champions

LAKE PLACID — Sylvia Hoffman, Kyle Wilcox, Elana Meyers Taylor and Codie Bascue earned titles as 2019 USA Bobsled National Push Champions in their respective divisions on the wheeled push track in Lake Placid on Thursday.

“It’s good to get back into a competitive environment and mindset now,” USA Bobsled head coach Mike Kohn said. “We had a lot of athletes surprise us today, and we’re looking forward to the future of USA Bobsled.”

Women’s competitors were given three pushes and the best two times were added together. The athlete with the lowest combined time was declared the winner.

Hoffman was dominant in the women’s division, claiming her second consecutive push title in 9.50 seconds with start times of 4.76 and 4.74 seconds to finish a distant 0.19 seconds ahead of the field.

The 30-year-old is a former basketball player at Louisiana State and a competitive weightlifter whose skills easily carried over to bobsled. Hoffman made the national team in her rookie season last year and earned her first World Cup medal, a bronze, with Meyers Taylor in Innsbruck, Austria.

After five years competing in track at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ebony McClendon wasn’t ready for her athletic career to be over. The 2018 Second-Team All-American impressed the coaches Thursday by finishing second with a total time of 9.69 seconds after clocking starts of 4.86 and 4.83 seconds.

Former Eastern Michigan University track and field athlete Jasmine Jones finished third with a two-run combined time of 9.72 seconds.

Olympic silver medalist Lauren Gibbs applied for a medical waiver and did not compete. Lake Kwaza, who helped push Meyers Taylor to four World Cup medals last season, was waived from push championships while she fulfills military obligations.

Men’s competitors pushed from the brakes, left side, and right side for a three-run combined time. Each competitor was given the option to push a fourth time from any position and the best time was counted.

Wilcox came out on top in the men’s field with a combined time of 13.25 seconds. He was fastest on the brakes with a start time of 4.33 seconds and pushed identical times of 4.46 seconds from the left and right. Wilcox was a starting running back at University of Pennsylvania. He was an Ivy League champion and received an All-Ivy honorable mention. 

  “I’m feeling pretty good,” Wilcox said. “It’s been a good summer of training and I’ve been in Lake Placid since early August training with a great group of teammates. I’m excited about the upcoming season. I’ve got some stuff to work on, and I’m excited to head to Calgary, Canada next week to get on the ice track to start really getting into the mindset for the season.” 

Kris Horn was just 0.03 seconds off Wilcox’s pace with a combined time of 13.28. Horn clocked 4.40 from the brakes and 4.44 from both the left and right sides.

Jimmy Reed finished third with a total time of 13.30 seconds. Reed pushed 4.40 from the brakes, 4.43 from the right, and 4.47 from the left.

Notable men’s athletes that did not compete Thursday with waivers were Christopher Kinney and Hakeem Abdul Saboor. Kinney is the track and field production assistant for Tokyo 2020 and is overseas for the world track and field championships, while Abdul Saboor is at Army basic training.

In the women’s drivers push competition, participants pushed once from the driver’s bar and once from the monobob/brakes position. Each competitor was given the option of a third heat from either position, and the best push bar and monobob/brake times were combined for a total.

Meyers Taylor and her husband, Nic Taylor, announced Wednesday that they are expecting their first child this spring. Meyers Taylor will be taking the 2019-2020 season off as a result, but not before she added one more push title to her sliding resume. The three-time Olympic medalist accumulated a total time of 9.45 seconds to win by one-tenth of a second.

Brittany Reinbolt was second with a total time of 9.55 seconds, followed by Kristi Koplin in third with a combined time of 9.68. Nicole Vogt broke her hand a few weeks ago and did not compete.

Canadian Kaillie Humphries participated as a guest by forerunning the women’s drivers push competition. 

Men’s drivers were given three pushes from the pilot bar, and the best two times were added together for a total time. Bascue, of Whitehall, was the top finisher with a combined time of 8.40 seconds after clocking starts of 4.21 and 4.19. Geoff Gabdois was second in 8.50 seconds, while Hunter Church, of Cadyville, was third in 8.69 seconds. Justin Olsen received a medical waiver and did not participate.

Push championships continues Friday with a series of combination pushes. Driver and coaches collaborate on assembling teams.

“The combination pushes are exciting,” Kohn said. “We’re excited to see how well the teams are coming together and look forward to continuing competition (Friday).”