American bobsledders slide by with one sleigh
The U.S. National Men’s four-man bobsled team is off to a rough start this year. It’s the first season without former teammate Steve Holcomb, who died unexpectedly last May, the team is dealing with a shortage of sleds and one of its teams was disqualified at the BMW International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation World Cup on Friday. However, the team is staying competitive despite its challenges.
The team’s practice season in Lake Placid was cut short because two of its three bobsleds were not ready. Then during the BMW IBSF World Cup at Utah Olympic Park on Saturday, a shoddy weld disqualified pilot Justin Olsen and his crew one of their races.
“We have a couple runs a week from here on out and we are racing every weekend, and two of the sleds haven’t shown up yet,” coach Brian Shimer said on Saturday. “They will show up sometime mid-season, and we will hope that right out of the box they will be where they need to be, because it’s going to be a challenge to really dial those in.”
Shimer said the process of breaking a bobsled in is time consuming. Though one would think all sleds are fairly similar, Shimer said the team still needs time to “become one with their sled.”
Shimer commented on Olsen’s disqualification by saying, “It wasn’t his fault.”
Olsen finished 15th in the second race, but his disqualification seeded him last in the first heat, meaning the team started on rough ice.
“I would have liked to finish a little bit better today,” Evan Weinstock, one of the team’s pushers, said Saturday. “But that’s how it is after the unfortunate disqualification yesterday and the bad draw. The ice was quick today, unfortunately it deteriorated pretty fast and us being last in the order, it showed. Justin had a really good run. If we had had that run at the beginning of the heat, I think we would have been in the top 10 at least. So it’s just kind of how the chips laid down after yesterday. We just have to deal with it, regroup and get ready for the next race.”
Overall, Olsen is ranked 35th in the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation: He finished the races at Park City with a disqualification and a 15th-place finish.
On the upside, despite the elaborate ride-sharing campaign the team goes through to compete with one sled, Shimer said the team is packed with talent, particularly in the pushing crews, which helped the Americans consistently log fast starts in Park City.
“With a men’s team, I haven’t seen this kind of depth in the program,” Shimer said. “It’s a good problem to have, but it’s difficult to pick who those teams will be going into the Games, because any one of this group – and not all can make it – can step up and be a top three, top five start in the world. … We will see when the cream rises to the top and see where that leaves us come January.”
That talent showed through among the team’s not hampered by disqualification.
Pilot Nick Cunningham and his team, comprising Ryan Bailey, Chris Kinney and Sam Michener, finished 12th in the first race and 16th in the second and are ranked 15th in the IBSF, but the true highlight for the U.S. was Cody Bascoe and his team, comprising Nathan Weber, Carlo Valdes and Sam McGuffie.
Before the race, Shimer said there was a good chance Bascoe could walk away with a win.
“He had a little bit of bad luck in the first heat going into curve one,” Shimer said. “In the second heat he made some driving errors and was still third fastest.”
In the end, Bascoe piloted to a seventh-place finish in the first race and second in the second. He is now ranked third overall behind Chris Spring of Canada and Johannes Lochner of Germany.
The next IBSF World Cup event is scheduled for Whistler, British Columbia, on Nov. 25.
“We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, but I think we’re all up for it,” Shimer said.
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