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Competition on ice continues

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

Darn those gold-winning Americans.

When Park City-born bobsledder Steve Holcomb came within just tenths of a second of capturing gold in the two-man competition in the International Bobsleigh and Toboggan Federation (FIBT) Bobsled World Cup at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) on Friday night, what was truly a great accomplishment paled somewhat in comparison to the straight gold-medals that had been won in the women’s bobsled and skeleton competitions before him.

Olympic silver medallists Shauna Rohbock and her brakeman Valerie Fleming just hours earlier in their own two-person race. For the second week in a row, raced to a gold medal win, this time shattering the track record previously set at the 2002 Games by American gold-medal winners Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers. Rohbock and Fleming’s 48.73 second time easily beat Bakken and Flower’s 48.81 and set them up for another decisive World Cup victory with a 1 minute and 37.58 minute combined finish. German racers Cathleen Martini and Janine Tischer came in second with a 1:38.01 finish. Helen Upperton and Jennifer Ciochetti of Canada were third.

"It’s great," Rohbock said. "All week I was struggling with my runs. Finally, in the last run, I put it together a little bit and I was hoping today I would do what I did in the last run and do it in the race."

Rohbock’s expert driving was aided by the ice, with thanks to a setting sun and colder temperatures was much faster on the second run than the first one. She said talk of the faster speeds and breaking a track record were spreading at the start house before the second run.

"They kept announcing, ‘Are we gonna see one,’ so it got a little nerve-racking," Rohbock said.

Rohbock, an Orem native, also had the help of her own cheering section. The yells and applause began before she even entered the finish dock, which she said made a big difference.

"It was good to have a big crowd" Rohbock said.

Rohbock and Fleming are both battling injuries, but say they are getting stronger, and thus far, have not allowed it to interfere with their racing. A less intense focus than last year may be contributing to that.

"This year, I’m kind of taking it easy," Rohbock said. "I just want to drive well and get over injury and if we stay at the top, that’s great."

The two will go for their third straight victory this weekend in Lake Placid.

"Hopefully three for three next week," said a smiling Fleming.

Even with second place after that dramatic ending, Holcomb was echoing the American enthusiasm level a few hours later. He and brakeman Brock Kreitzburg’s 1:35.64 combined time in the two-man was just shy of beating Germany’s Andre Lang and Kevin Kuske who won gold with a 1:35.39 finish.

"It’s a great start," said the 26-year-old driver who took sixth in Calgary the week before. "I’m overwhelmed with my performance."

His performance was even more impressive when it was revealed that he was battling a stomach virus. The Park City native said it was important to rally with all of his friends and family supporting him at his home track.

"A lot of people came a long way to see this," said Holcomb. "So even though I’m sick, I’ve got to compete."

Unfortunately, the American podium run stopped short on Saturday night in the four-man bobsled competition. Holcomb and his team of Kreitzburg, Jesse Beckom III and Alex Sprague finished with an American-best sixth place.

"You can’t be too upset with sixth," Holcomb said. "I had a great push from the guys and great equipment. I just didn’t drive too well."

He explained that a few bad steers snowballed and kept the team out of medal contention, but Kreitzburg says that each tour stop is part of a learning process.

"Every race, we get better," Kreitzburg said. "This year, we are trying to learn something every race so we can peak at St. Moritz [Switzerland, site of the World Championships]. You can’t get too upset if we improve."

The other two American sleds driven by Mike Kohn and Parkite Stephan Bosch finished in 10th and 11th, respectively.

"It’s nice to be back. It’s just really rough We just got to get it together at the start," Bosch said.

The U.S. team is under the guidance of a new head coach and added a number of new bobsledders to its team this season. The Americans will look to improve on their surprising successful start next weekend when the World Cup tour wraps up its North American swing in Lake Placid, N.Y.


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