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Humphries golden in American debut

Kaillie Humphries and Lauren Gibbs exit curve 19 at Mount Van Hoevenberg during the first heat of Saturday’s World Cup bobsled race in Lake Placid. The duo went on to win the gold medal. (Provided photo — Jason Hicks-Moriarty)

LAKE PLACID — Kaillie Humphries proved that she can win at any track, in any sled, and for any country in her return to women’s bobsled competition this weekend in Lake Placid after taking a year off.

Humphries, a Carlsbad, California resident who won the 2010 and 2014 Olympic gold medals for Canada, made her World Cup debut Saturday as a driver for the United States program with 2018 Olympic silver medalist Lauren Gibbs in her sled. Humphries didn’t miss a beat, returning to the sport where she left off — on the medal stand.

“This feels fantastic to start the season so strong,” Humphries said. “It’s a great way to start this next chapter. The team has been so supportive, and there’s been incredible team effort this week to make this win happen. I’m feeling really happy and proud.”

While Humphries has been awarded dozens of medals in her career, including two World Championship titles and four overall World Cup titles, this is her first time hearing the American anthem while celebrating a victory. Humphries, who’s from Calgary, Canada, joined the American team this season following a dispute with the Canadian federation.

“I’ve been through a lot emotionally over the last year, so knowing I have the skill to focus and turn it on when I need to builds confidence,” Humphries said. “I can rely on my teammates and they trust me back. Some things aren’t perfect, but I’m a high-performing athlete and there will always be things I want to improve on. I’m excited to have this as a starting point.”

The American sled of Hunter Church and Kris Horn race to a fifth-place finish in Saturday’s World Cup two-man bobsled event at the Olympic Sliding Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg. (Provided photo — Jason Hicks-Moriarty)

Humphries drove a BMW sled, which she’s still learning, to the finish in 56.70 seconds to lead the field by 0.09 seconds after the first heat. Humphries said she made some errors driving that she was eager to clean up in the second run. She and Gibbs clocked a 56.78 to extend their lead to a wide margin of 0.30 seconds.

Humphries credits Gibbs for two solid pushes of 5.55 and 5.56 seconds, which were the fastest of the competition.

“I am so proud of (Lauren) Gibbs,” Humphries said. “I made some driving mistakes, but those pushes helped us overcome some of those.”

The pair finished with a combined time of 1:53.48 for their first victory of the season.

“Kaillie is the most laser focused athlete I’ve ever seen,” USA Bobsled Head Coach Mike Kohn said. “I’m super proud of her, Lauren Gibbs, and this team for their efforts today. We’re looking forward to more medals this season.”

Kendall Wesenberg flies down the track Saturday during the World Cup skeleton race at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid. She placed sixth in the event. (Provided photo — Jason Hicks-Moriarty)

Stephanie Schneider and Lisette Thoene from Germany rallied back from fourth to claim the silver medal with a two-run total of 1:53.79. Kim Kalicki and Vanessa Mark earned bronze for Germany with a combined time of 1:53.92.

Americans Brittany Reinbolt and Sylvia Hoffman also had a strong performance Saturday. The duo missed the top-six by a mere 0.01 seconds, finishing seventh in the KOA branded BMW sled with a combined time of 1:54.48. Reinbolt and Hoffman combined forces for start times of 5.63 and 5.73 and runs of 57.06 and 57.42 seconds, respectively.

Missing from tour this season is three-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor. Meyers Taylor and her husband, Nic Taylor, are expecting their first child this spring. Meyers Taylor has stayed involved with the team while pregnant by coaching development athletes.

This weekend’s World Cup in Lake Placid included men’s and women’s two-man bobsled, as well as men’s and women’s skeleton. The event was originally scheduled to take place in Park City, Utah, but was moved due to refrigeration problems in Park City.

Lake Placid will also host a bobsled and skeleton World Cup event next weekend, with men’s and women’s skeleton, four-man bobsled and women’s bobsled competitions.

MEN’S TWO-MAN

LAKE PLACID — Hunter Church, of Cadyville, and Kris Horn repeated their Saturday result with another fifth-place finish in Sunday’s two-man bobsled World Cup race. The duo was tied for third after the first heat, but last season’s overall World Cup champion Oskars Kibermanis, of Latvia, and reigning Olympic champion Justin Kripps of Canada surpassed the Americans.

“I was definitely disappointed to be so close to the medals again and to not be able to execute in the end,” Church said. “It’s hard when I’m so far behind at the start, but that’s on me. I’ve got a lot of work to do after some injuries this summer, but these races are motivating for sure.”

The season opener was scheduled to take place on the 2002 Olympic track in Park City, Utah, but a mechanical issue forced the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation to cancel. As a result, Lake Placid was asked to host back-to-back races. Both two-man races took place this weekend, while next weekend will feature double four-man races.

“Four-man is my discipline, so I am really looking forward to next week,” Church said. “I’ll have three guys giving me their best at the start and I’m confident we can turn some heads in four-man.”

Church turned heads with his two-man bobsled performances over the weekend. While Sunday was only his fifth career two-man World Cup, he was battling for the medals with the world’s best and most experienced drivers.

Church and Horn started their campaign for the medals with a start time of 5.25 seconds and crossed the finish line tied with Kibermanis and his brakeman, Matiss Miknis, for third with a downtime of 55.14 seconds. Church and Horn were slightly slower at the start in run two, and the Americans fell back to the Latvians with a run of 55.43 seconds. Church and Horn finished fifth with a two-run total of 1:50.57.

“I think I did a better job of putting together two good runs today, but I think I can still be more consistent,” Church said Sunday. “I’ll review lines tonight, and every day is a work in progress that offers something to learn.”

Friedrich, who tied Kripps as the 2018 Olympic two-man bobsled champion, was victorious with a combined time of 1:49.77. Johannes Lochner and Christian Rasp were the first heat leaders, but they fell back to their teammates with a total time of 1:50.00 for the silver medal. Kripps and Cameron Stone rallied back from fifth to claim bronze in 1:50.34. Kibermanis and Miknis were fourth, followed by the Americans.

Codie Bascue, of Whitehall, and Kyle Wilcox crossed the finish line in 1:51.15 for ninth place in the BMW sled. Bascue injured his hamstring during team trials and was unable to participate in the race series, but it didn’t impact his position on the team since he already earned a spot by winning USA Bobsled National Championships in March 2019. Bascue is still recovering, though he’s relying heavily on his brakeman to get the sled off the start. Wilcox was his engine in Lake Placid, helping to push the sled off the block in 5.28 and 5.27 seconds.

Bascue, who started in the Lake Placid junior bobsled program, navigated the team to the finish in 55.47 and 55.68 seconds, respectively.

Geoff Gadbois, of Milton, Vermont, and Blaine McConnell finished 18th Sunday in the 2021 Lake Placid World Championships sled with a combined time of 1:51.90. The duo posted start times of 5.26 and 5.31 for runs of 55.82 and 56.08 seconds, respectively.

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WOMEN’S SKELETON

LAKE PLACID — Kendall Wesenberg, of Modesto, California, led Team USA with a sixth-place finish in Saturday’s women’s skeleton World Cup opener at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Megan Henry, of Roxbury, Connecticut, finished 12th in her World Cup debut, and Savannah Graybill  finished 15th.

Wesenberg earned her spot as USA 1 by winning USA Skeleton National Championships in March 2019. Her win also granted her a bye through team trials, which Wesenberg was especially grateful for since she was still gaining back strength following hip surgery this summer.

“I was so antsy coming into this race,” Wesenberg said. “I didn’t race trials this year and I’m coming back from surgery this summer, so I felt behind everyone and was eager to get back into the routine.”

Wesenberg mustered start times of 5.55 and 5.59 seconds, 23rd and 17th of the field, respectively. The 2018 Olympian was eighth after a first run of 55.37 seconds, and she gained two spots to finish sixth with a second run of 55.50 seconds. Wesenberg’s combined time of 1:50.87 earned her a medal for a top-six finish.

“I made the same error in corner 10 in back-to-back runs, which is frustrating,” Wesenberg said. “I came out here trying to do what I could on the start ramp and string together two runs, and I would have loved it more if I put together the runs I wanted. It feels good to be in the top six, but it’s bittersweet because I didn’t slide the way I know I can.”

Jacqueline Loelling from Germany was victorious with a combined time of 1:49.76. She finished 0.24 seconds ahead of Austrian Janine Flock, who claimed silver in 1:50.00. Germany’s Tina Hermann rallied for the bronze medal with a total time of 1:50.47. 

Henry made her World Cup debut as the first competitor off the start Saturday. Henry was tied for 11th in the first heat with Kimberly Bos from the Netherlands after crossing the finish line in 55.44 seconds. Henry posted a 55.69 in run two compared to Bos’ 56.06 to break the tie, but 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Laura Deas from Great Britain threaded together a speedy second run to overtake the American. Henry finished 12th with a total time of 1:51.13. Henry is known as one of the fastest starters internationally; she posted push times of 5.26 and 5.35 seconds today, third and seventh best of the field, respectively. 

“I got the butterflies out this weekend,” Henry said. “It wasn’t the finish I was looking for, especially on a home track. I’m pushing a max weight sled this year, so I was happy to push some of the fastest start times, especially at the World Cup level.”

Henry not only had the challenge of managing her nerves before her first World Cup start, but also managing her emotions; her aunt unexpectedly passed away and Saturday was the funeral.

“I tried to have good runs to pay tribute to her,” Henry said.

Graybill had the 22nd best start time of 5.54 seconds and moved into 16th position with a downtime of 55.57 seconds. The veteran was consistent in run two with a start time of 5.55, and she had good speed going down the track, but Graybill ran out of track. The American crossed the finish line in 55.86 seconds for a combined time of 1:51.43 to finish 15th.

MEN’S SKELETON

LAKE PLACID — Austin Florian, of Southington, Connecticut, finished 14th in Sunday’s men’s skeleton World Cup season opener in Lake Placid to lead the U.S. team. Alex Ivanov and Andrew Blaser finished 18th and 23rd, respectively. This was Florian’s eighth career World Cup race, and the first for Ivanov and Blaser.

“The team had a great week of training, but I think the pressure got to them,” USA Skeleton Head Coach Tuffy Latour said. “Austin is still new to the scene, and this was the first ever World Cup race for Alex and Andrew. It was a lot for them to take in.”

Many of the competitors in the field have had hundreds of World Cup starts compared to the 10 combined starts for the U.S. men. Florian acknowledged that it was a stacked field, but said he still expects more of himself.

“I’m really disappointed,” Florian said. “I’ve been sliding way better than this all year and I’ve made good progress up until this point. I didn’t execute on race day. I need to look at the areas I struggled with today and try to execute next weekend when we get another chance to race here.”

Florian was in 14th after a first run of 53.67 seconds, and he maintained his position with a second run of 54.04 seconds. The former ski racer posted start times of 4.93 and 4.90 seconds, respectively. Florian’s combined time of 1:47.71 seconds placed him in 14th. His best World Cup finish to date was a ninth place finish in the Altenberg 2019 race.

Axel Jungk from Germany was victorious Sunday with a combined time of 1:46.32. This is only his second career World Cup win. Latvia’s Martins Dukurs finished second with a total time of 1:46.44. Sunday’s silver medal was Dukurs’ 73rd career World Cup medal, and his 15th silver medal performance. Alexander Tretiakov, the “Russian Rocket,” was third in 1:46.71. Tretiakov is also no stranger to the podium; the bronze was his 57th career World Cup medal.

Germany’s Felix Keisinger set the pace in the first heat by sliding to the finish 0.07 seconds faster than any skeleton athlete ever by setting a new track record of 53.06 seconds. Matt Antoine set the former record in March of 2015. Keisinger fell back into fifth with only the 11th best time of the second heat.

Ivanov was the last competitor to take a run in the first heat, and he moved himself into 16th with a start time of 5.08 and downtime of 53.90 seconds. Ivanov lost some time at the start in run two with a push time of 5.11, and fell back two spots into 18th with a total time of 1:48.08.

Blaser posted a start time of 4.97 seconds, 14th of the heat, for a run of 54.51 seconds. He narrowly missed the top 20 cutoff for the second heat, finishing 23rd.

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