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Church races to bronze medal in Austria

IGLS, Austria  — Hunter Church, Josh Williamson, Jimmy Reed and Kris Horn claimed the bronze medal in Sunday’s four-man bobsled World Cup in Igls. It was Church’s first week in Igls, but his enthusiasm was bigger than his inexperience.

“This sport is my passion,” Church said. “There isn’t much else out there that gets me excited like bobsled, even as a spectator. The guys around me have a whole lot of heart as well. Everyone believes in what we are doing, everyone has faith in one another, and this team is truly working as one unit week in and week out.”

Church, of Cadyville, couldn’t find the words to express his excitement over his first World Cup medal. He said he just screamed when they crossed the finish line in medal position, and that he didn’t know how to express what he was feeling.

“I can’t even explain it,” Church said. “I was a fan of this sport growing up, and I watched Steven Holcomb win the 2009 World Championships, and I shook his hand and told him I wanted to be like him one day. This is so emotional. I didn’t think I’d ever be here.”

The last men’s bobsled medal on foreign soil was three years ago in Igls, when Holcomb claimed bronze in the four-man World Cup. Reed was a member of Holcomb’s medal winning crew.

In an email Saturday, following his top 10 finish in the two-man bobsled World Cup race, Church wrote, “Expect us to bring the thunder tomorrow in four-man.”

Team USA showed up today, and the world heard them loud and clear.

Church, Williamson, Reed and Horn powered the Under Armour wrapped sled off the start block in 5.11 seconds for the third best push time of the opening heat, and Church maintained that speed to the finish for the third fastest downtime of 51.11 seconds. 

The Americans were in position to prevent a German sweep of the medals. Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Alexander Schueller held the lead with a run of 50.92, followed by Johannes Lochner, Florian Bauer, Christopher Weber and Christian Rasp in second position with a 50.98. Nico Walther, Paul Krenz, Malte Schwenzfeier and Tobias Schneider were on the heels of Team USA, finishing a mere 0.02 seconds behind Church’s sled. 

While Church and driving coach Brian Shimer were reviewing video between heats, Friedrich approached the young American driver to help him with corner six. 

“We’ve formed a good relationship with the Germans, and it says a lot about Friedrich for him to take the time to do that for Hunter,” USA Bobsled Head Coach Mike Kohn said.

Team Walther put together a strong performance in the second heat, but crashed in the end run. Church, Williamson, Reed and Horn waited at the start while there was a track hold.

“There was definitely a lot of self talk,” Church said. “I was talking myself back down, telling myself it was just another heat like any other and that I needed to stay focused. I told the guys to stay pumped and to be ready to go. Those guys are amazing, they are the difference maker.”

The hold only invigorated the Americans. When the track was clear, Church, Williamson, Reed and Horn powered the sled off the block with an even faster start time of 5.10 seconds, which was second best of the heat. Church navigated the crew to the finish in 51.19 seconds for a combined time of 1:42.30 to surpass Walther and secure the bronze medal. 

“The guys around me are the ones making it all worthwhile,” Church said. “They are an incredibly talented group who work extremely hard. I think each week they will just continue to get better, and like me, they are students of the sport and are always looking for ways to get better.” 

Lochner piloted his team to the finish in 1:42.21 to finish 0.09 seconds ahead of the Americans in second place. Friedrich maintained his lead and won with a two-run combined time of 1:41.88.

“I can’t believe it,” Church said. “I just, I can’t believe it.”

Church’s next chance for a medal will be in Koenigssee, Germany this week for the sixth stop of the World Cup. It will be another new track for the young American pilot. 

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