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Humphries settles for fourth in Winterberg

WINTERBERG, Germany — Kaillie Humphries and Lauren Gibbs narrowly missed the medals in Saturday’s women’s bobsled World Cup race in Winterberg, finishing fourth behind three Germans on their home track.

“At the end of the day, fourth place is one of my better results on this track,” Humphries said. “I will take a fourth here any day, especially next to the Germans. It was close, and we’re reeling them in. We’re still putting the pieces of the puzzle together, but my driving was where I wanted it to be, and I’m really happy about that.”

In the 13 World Cup races Humphries has entered in Winterberg, she’s medaled in two. She won the 2012 competition, and was third in 2015. The last time Humphries raced in Winterberg was in 2017, when she finished fourth for Team Canada.

In Saturday’s World Cup for Team USA, Humphries and Gibbs combined forces to power the Omaze-branded BMW sled off the start in 5.64 seconds for the fourth-best time of 57.61 seconds in the first heat. Humphries, a two-time Olympic champion, and Gibbs, an Olympic silver medalist, were eager to make up the 0.08 seconds between them and the Germans, who were in position to sweep the medals.

The duo again blasted off the start block in run two, but Humphries struggled loading into the sled. New to the American program, Humphries is still adjusting to the BMW sleds. Humphries threaded together a run of 58.29 seconds after a start time of 5.78, but their total of 1:55.90 was 0.31 seconds shy of the medals.

“Kaillie got caught up in the D-rings at the start, but she drove really well,” USA Bobsled Head Coach Mike Kohn said. “Her run was perfect, you can’t get much better than that. There’s some work to do at the start, but that will come.”

Stephanie Schneider and Kira Lipperheide were victorious with a combined time of 1:55.46, followed by reigning Olympic champions Mariama Jamanka and Annika Drazek in second with a 1:55.50. Laura Nolte and Deborah Levi completed the German sweep of the medals by claiming bronze with an aggregate time of 1:55.59.

“We knew this was going to be a challenge here,” Humphries said. “The Germans have this track and their sleds dialed in on this track. We’re still overcoming jetlag, but again, a fourth here is something I’m happy with.”

FOUR-MAN BOBSLED

WINTERBERG, Germany –Hunter Church, of Cadyville, navigated his team of Josh Williamson, Jimmy Reed and Kris Horn to eighth place in Friday’s four-man bobsled World Cup in Winterberg. Friday was Church’s first World Cup race outside of North America.

Church took his first-career trips down the German track last week. The only European track the 23-year-old pilot has experience on is St. Moritz, Switzerland, where he raced in the 2018 Junior World Championships. Church earned his spot at the sole U.S. men’s pilot on the European portion of the World Cup tour by finishing as the top-ranked American pilot in the first two races in Lake Placid. 

“Hunter has a willingness to learn that’s really refreshing, and an amazing attention to detail,” USA Bobsled Head Coach Mike Kohn said. “He came to Europe with a growth mindset, and he did a great job today.”

Church, Williamson, Reed and Horn powered the Under Armour branded sled off the block in 5.14 seconds for the sixth-best start of the first heat. Church had some trouble maneuvering the sled into corner nine, but the crew crossed the finish line in 55.97 seconds to place them in eighth heading into the final heat. Two Russian sleds were tied for sixth a mere one-hundredth of a second ahead of the Americans. 

Church, Williamson, Reed and Horn had great speed off the start again in run two with a push time of 5.13 seconds. Church threaded together a run of 55.48 seconds to maintain eighth place with a combined time of 1:51.45. Church is now ranked sixth in World Cup points.

“Kaillie (Humphries) was a huge help this week,” Kohn said. “She shared lines with Hunter and helped him feel comfortable. It was a team effort with Brian (Shimer), Kaillie and me, but it was all Hunter and his team today. The crew pushed really well, and Hunter did a great job against a very experienced field.”

Team Germany secured gold and silver medals on their home track Friday. Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Alexander Schueller and Thorsten Margis were in second place after the first heat, but the crew moved into the lead to claim gold in 1:50.53. First heat leaders Nico Walther, Paul Krenz, Joshua Bluhm and Eric Franke finished 0.20 seconds behind their teammates for the silver medal. Latvians Oskars Kibermanis, Lauris Kaufmanis, Arvis Vilkaste and Matiss Miknis denied Germany a sweep of the medals after moving up from fourth into bronze medal position with a combined time of 1:50.93.

Church had another great result Saturday, finishing eighth with his crew of Williamson, Reed and Kyle Wilcox in Winterberg’s second four-man World Cup race of the week.

“I am really proud of these guys,” said USA Bobsled Head Coach Mike Kohn. “There was a lot thrown at them (Saturday), but they stayed composed, they didn’t complain or make excuses, and they did the best they could. They are conducting themselves like professionals, and it’s just a matter of getting more experience.”

Kohn said there was a mix-up with the schedule and the crew didn’t pick up lunch at the hotel, so “they raced today on empty stomachs,” and the team before the Americans crashed in the first heat, resulting in a delay. The crew stayed collected and threw down two of their best runs despite the unexpected challenges.

Church, Williamson, Reed and Wilcox powered the Under Armour-wrapped sled off the block in 5.26 seconds, and tied Korean Yunjong Won for 10th position with a time of 55.94 seconds. The Americans responded in the second heat with a faster start time of 5.24, and the seventh-best run of 53.33 seconds. Church, Williamson, Reed and Wilcox moved up two spots into eighth with a combined time of 1:51.27.

Church high-fived fans in the crowd and waved to the camera at the finish. Broadcast commentator Martin Haven said Church was “absolutely bouncing” with his enthusiasm about racing in Europe.

  “Two top-10 finishes on a track Hunter has never driven before this week is exceptional,” Kohn said. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy and that we had our work cut out for us, but this team is proving they are up for the challenge.”

Team Germany swept the medals Saturday. Johannes Lochner, Florian Bauer, Christian Rasp and Christopher Weber moved up from second to the lead with a two-run total of 1:50.54. Yesterday’s winners Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Alexander Schueller and Thorsten Margis finished second with a total time of 1:50.56. Nico Walther, Paul Krenz, Kevin Korona and Eric Franke finished in 1:50.76 for the bronze medal.

WOMEN’S SKELETON

WINTERBERG, Germany — In her third-career women’s skeleton World Cup race, Megan Henry finished seventh to lead the U.S. team in Winterberg Sunday morning. Savannah Graybill and Kendall Wesenberg finished 16th and 17th, respectively. 

“I was trying to have fun and be consistent with things I knew were solid from training,” Henry said. “The only thing I struggled with today was my start. The groove was sticky and I had trouble getting the sled off the block, and I was running too close to my sled. I loaded really early compared to where I normally would. There aren’t a lot of places to gain speed here, so I know that’s where I lost time.”

Known for some of the fastest starts in the world, Henry was only able to muster the sixth and seventh best push times of 5.38 and 5.40 seconds Sunday. Henry clocked identical runs of 58.73 seconds for a combined time of 1:57.46 to finish seventh, just 0.22 seconds from the top six.

This is only Henry’s third-career World Cup start. She made her debut earlier this season in the double Lake Placid races, where she finished 12th and 13th.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself for those first two races in Lake Placid,” Henry said. “I came into this race trying to be more relaxed, and knowing that I can perform at this level. The team has been really great, and I’m excited for the rest of the tour.”

Henry has limited experience in Winterberg, having competed in six races before Sunday: three Intercontinental Cup races, two European Cup races and one World Championships.

Her former best Winterberg finish was eighth from the 2018 Intercontinental Cup.

Germany’s Tina Hermann was victorious in 1:56.21. Mirela Rahnever from Canada was just 0.03 seconds off the pace, claiming silver in 1:56.24. Austrian Janine Flock secured bronze in 1:56.37.

Graybill posted identical start times of 5.61 seconds for runs of 59.16 and 59.08 seconds. She finished 16 with a combined time of 1:58.24. Wesenberg clocked a start of 5.71 seconds for the 15th best time of 59.05 in the first run. She fell back slightly in run two with a start time of 5.73. Wesenberg was gaining speed, but she ran out of track. She crossed the finish line in 59.22 for a cumulative time of 1:58.27 to finish 17th.

The women’s skeleton competition concluded the Winterberg event. The next stop will be in La Plagne, France for the fourth World Cup of the 2019-2020 season.

MEN’S SKELETON

WINTERBERG, Germany — It was a tough start to the New Year for the Americans in Sunday’s men’s skeleton World Cup race in Winterberg. Austin Florian was the highest U.S. finisher in 18th, while Andrew Blaser and Alex Ivanov finished 22nd and 27th, respectively.

“These three athletes lack experience, so we’re going to see weeks of learning, but not the execution yet,” said USA Skeleton Technical and Development Lead Coach Caleb Smith. “We’ll have a debrief and set goals that are relative to their experience. It’s important to remind them of the big picture. You have to zoom out and step away from your own internal thought process in order to appreciate what was learned this week, and they will all come back stronger next time they compete in Winterberg.”

Florian clocked a start time of 5.08 seconds for the 18th best time of 57.57 seconds in the first heat. He bettered his start to 5.05 in the final heat, and despite a faster run of 57.30 seconds, Florian was unable to gain any spots with a combined time of 1:54.87. 

Smith said Winterberg requires a lot of subtle movements, which is something the young American men’s team is still learning. This is Florian’s 10th World Cup start, and only the third World Cup start for Blaser and Ivanov.

Blaser pushed off the start ramp in 5.07 seconds and was on track for a fast run, but he exited the labyrinth late and bounced out of the corner, losing the speed he’d built. He crossed the finish line in 57.85 seconds for 22nd place. Only the top-20 competitors after the first heat qualify for the final run.

Ivanov had a nice looking run without any major errors, but the World Cup rookie couldn’t find speed. He finished 27th with a time of 58.15 seconds.

There were no Germans in the top three after the first heat, but Alexander Gassner and Axel Jungk threaded together nearly flawless second runs to move into the medals. Jungk moved from fifth into bronze medal position with a total time of 1:53.03, while Gassner went from fourth to second with a combined time of 1:52.53. Reigning Olympic champion Sungbin Yun of Korea held onto his lead and was victorious by a narrow margin of 0.05 seconds with a total time of 1:52.95. 

Latvian Martins Dukurs was in third place, but fell back into fourth. Korean Jisoo Kim was in second place behind his teammate, and he ultimately finished sixth with just the 11th best time of the final heat. His former best World Cup finish was seventh in the 2017 Igls, Austria race.