Curtis and Blaser wrap North American Cup season on top

CALGARY, Alberta — Kelly Curtis and Andrew Blaser secured the 2019 North American Cup titles for USA Skeleton with impressive performances over the last two days in the series finale in Canada. Despite only racing in six of the eight races this season, Sara Roderick (South Burlington, Vermont) finished third overall in the women’s field.

USA Skeleton athletes capped a successful season with a total of 22 medals on the North American Cup tour.

“They’ve all shown growth this season and I hope to see some competitive results from this bunch at USA Skeleton National Championships later this year,” said USA Skeleton Development Coach Lauri Bausch. 

Curtis, of New Jersey, claimed five medals in the eight-race series to secure the women’s overall title by 70 points. Two of those medals were gold, one of which was earned in Calgary on Friday. She also earned two silvers and one bronze this season. Blaser, of Idaho, claimed gold in half of the races to claim the men’s title by a large margin of 164 points. This is Blaser’s second consecutive overall North American Cup title.

“I am happy with my overall performance this season and was excited to win the overall for Team USA again,” Blaser said.

Roderick claimed three medals this season, including two gold medals in Lake Placid. Michelle Toukan finished just 13 points behind Roderick for fourth place overall. Max Delance (San Jose, California) wrapped up his season ranked fourth in the men’s field, a mere 19 points from third.

Curtis had a breakout season last year when she claimed the 2018 North American Cup title by more than 100 points with five medal finishes in only her first season on tour as a skeleton athlete.

Curtis carried that momentum into this season by again winning five medals en route to her second career North American Cup title. Two of those medals were earned in Calgary. 

“Going into the weekend I expected to slide better than I had last year and just let the medal placement fall wherever it did,” Curtis said. “Training has been going relatively well, but my game plan changed when I tweaked my hamstring on the first push of the first race.”

Curtis started the first race of the finale in fifth after a first run time of 59.13 seconds, but she rallied back in the second heat despite the injury with the fastest time of the field, 58.41 seconds, to claim the silver medal. She finished just 0.03 seconds from gold medalist Ashleigh Fay Pittaway from Great Britain with a combined time of 1:57.54. Canadian Madison Charney was in second place after the first heat, but she dropped into third with a total time of 1:57.63 after Curtis’ stellar second run.

Curtis started Friday’s campaign with the third fastest run of the first heat, 58.40 seconds. Eager to put distance between herself and Sweden’s Leslie Stratton, who entered this week’s races as the North American Cup leader, Curtis threw down the fastest time of the final heat, 58.25 seconds, to place her in the lead by 0.18 seconds with an aggregate time of 1:56.65. Charney was second again with a total time of 1:56.83, while Canadian Lanette Prediger grabbed bronze in 1:57.03.

“Calgary is one of my favorite tracks because it’s a beautiful finesse track,” Curtis said. “It’s definitely challenging with the subtle steers, but having coaching by Lauri (Bausch) and Matt (Antoine) helped to piece it together for the race days.”

Roderick finished seventh in the first Calgary race with a combined time of 1:58.58. The up-and-coming athlete posted start times of 5.38 and 5.37 seconds for runs of 59.20 and 59.38 seconds, respectively. She was 10th with an aggregate time of 1:58.45 after putting together powerful start times of 5.36 and 5.39 for runs of 59.20 and 59.25 seconds.

Toukan finished 10th and sixth. She was 10th Thursday with times of 59.16 and 59.58 seconds for a cumulative time of 1:58.74. She had another solid performance Friday, finishing sixth with a total time of 1:58.03 after sliding to the finish in 59.06 and 58.97 seconds. 

After several weeks recuperating from an injury sustained earlier this season, Kristen Hurley (Columbia, Connecticut) finished 13th in yesterday’s race. Hurley raced to the finish in 59.63 and 1:00.05 for a two-run combined time of 1:59.68. She finished the season ranked 18th.

Mystique Ro (Nokesville, Va.) swapped Calgary races with Hurley. She placed 14th Friday with a combined time of 1:59.15 and finished the season ranked 12th overall.

Blaser medaled six times last season to finish second overall in men’s skeleton North American Cup rankings, which was the best season of his career until this year. Blaser narrowly missed the medals in both Calgary races, finishing fourth both days. It was enough for Blaser to secure the overall title to make this season his best yet.

Blaser was in third in Thursday’s opening heat, but he fell back one spot with the fifth-best time of the second run. Blaser’s runs of 57.10 and 57.40 seconds placed him in fourth with a total of 1:54.50. He finished just 0.13 seconds from third place finisher Mark Lynch from Canada. Crag Thompson from Great Britain was victorious in 1:53.61, and Jisoo Kim of Korea finished third in 1:53.92.

“This was a really deep field,” Blaser said. “I let the second run get a little away from me, however I bounded back and had a really great finish. I was happy to have consistent pushes and get a personal best in my push.”

Blaser pushed a start time of 4.98 seconds in Thursday’s first heat, one of only six athletes to push under five seconds.

Blaser was even closer to the medals Friday, finishing a mere 0.04 seconds from third. He had the sixth best run of the first heat with a time of 57.10, and powered back in run two with a time of 56.91 seconds, third best of the heat. Blaser narrowly missed the medals, finishing fourth with a combined time of 1:54.01. Kim was Friday’s leader in 1:53.46. Zheng Yin from China was second with a cumulative time of 1:53.81, and Thompson squeaked out third. 

“I expected to do well,” Blaser said. “However, as training went and I was testing sleds, I wasn’t sure that would happen. The guys who are using this to tune up for the Intercontinental Cup are very talented sliders, and I think Team USA did a great job of using the opportunity to improve.”

Dan Barefoot (Orlando, Fla.) finished the Calgary races in 13th and 11th as the next closest American to Blaser. He tallied runs of 57.50 and 58.50 for a total time of 1:56.00 Thursday to finish 13th. Barefoot narrowly missed a top-10 today. He clocked a combined time of 1:55.24 after clocking finish times of 57.42 and 57.82 for 11th place. 

Chris Strup (Defiance, Ohio) finished 17th Thursday with a cumulative time of 1:56.46 and 14th Friday in 1:56.28. Barefoot finished the season ranked seventh, followed by Strup in eighth.

Delance rounded out his season in 16th (1:56.30) and 17th (1:56.59). Delance had an impressive first season competing internationally, earning four top-10 finishes, including silver and bronze medals, to finish fourth overall.