Parkite Dave Nicholls takes home the first gold medal of his career
At about 10 seconds, Parkite Dave Nicholls started counting down.
When the bobsledder reached five, the butterflies and the nerves started to fill his stomach as he wasn’t sure what he was witnessing. Was it real? Was he dreaming? There’s no way that this could be happening, on this track of all places?
“I remember being at the bottom and just hearing times read off, slowly starting to check numbers off,” Nicholls said. “I remember hearing the announcers telling the competitors ‘you need to catch Nicholls’ and ‘Nicholls still in the lead.’ When you keep hearing that over and over again, you start to believe it as the nerves grow more even though there’s nothing you control anymore.”
Just over month ago as he stood at the bottom of the bobsled run at the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, New York, competing in a World Cup event, those nerves started to grow more and more as the countdown got closer to one. The reason the nerves grew is because in the five years that Nicholls has competed on the IBSF Para Sport World Cup tour, he has never taken a top-three finish.
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That all changed on Feb. 6 when Nicholls took home the gold medal at the Para Sport World Cup event, something he described as life-changing.
“I was like shocked, truly shocked to the point where I felt like a deer in the headlights. … I really couldn’t process it, never thought it was possible, especially on that track,” Nicholls said. “All of a sudden, with two sleds left, it hit me that I can do something. I knew I had at least a bronze. … And then it became a silver. Finally when the Canadian skidded at the top of the track, I knew I had it in the bag. … It turned into gold right before my eyes.”
Nicholls’ win didn’t come completely out of the blue for him, as he had plenty of experience competing in Lake Placid coming in to the World Cup event. Over the course of his five-year career, Nicholls had either competed or trained at the track over 25 times.
“That track in Lake Placid is a clinical track, and a lot of people believe it it’s one of the most difficult tracks in the world,” Nicholls said. “It’s easily one of the longest tracks in the world with 20-ish curves. With it being a longer track, it gives you a few more opportunities to fix some problems if something goes wrong along the way. … And I definitely think that helped me finally get this win.”
Prior to the competition, Nicholls had three days of training with two runs each day, seeing progress each time that began to give him more and more faith in what he could potentially accomplish.
Specifically, Nicholls recalls one of his coaches giving him a certain piece of advice that changed everything.
On turn 10, Nicholls was advised to get a higher line and trust it by letting it flow more — which in turn would give him a bump of speed that could propel him enough to make it all happen.
Nicholls followed up that gold medal with a silver medal the following day at Lake Placid in another World Cup event. So in a span of two days, he found more success in the sport that he loves than he did in five years worth of competition, which to him was a long time coming.
“Without arrogance, I feel as if I’m pretty decent driver after having done this so long even though I’ve never won before,” Nicholls said. “I usually get between fourth and sixth, just barely missing out. I feel like it’s always been within my grasp and I honestly that Lake Placid was going to be another similar result.”
Following the performance in Lake Placid, Nicholls returned home to Park City for another set of events on the World Cup tour on Feb. 15 and 16. He finished with a bronze medal before taking 10th on the second day of competition — setting off a celebration that’s been long overdue.
“I really wanted to celebrate right away after Lake Placid but I knew I couldn’t because not only did I compete the next day, I knew I would be coming home for another competition,” Nicholls said. “But when I finally get the chance to celebrate, I’m probably going to head to No Name or O’Shucks or something. I might even go to Maxwell’s for a slice of pizza and a beer. … But regardless I’ll be happy and ecstatic.”
Nicholls’ focus had turned to the World Championships, which was scheduled to take place at the end of March in Lillehammer, Norway. But with the recent outbreak of the COVID-19, the novel coronavirus throughout the world, particularly in Europe, the IBSF Para World Championships have been canceled.
It’s a tough break for Nicholls, who was finally riding the confidence high he’s been lacking throughout his career, believing that anything is now possible.
“That win had really boosted and added to my confidence,” Nicholls said. “If I could win on a track like Lake Placid, there’s no reason I couldn’t do the same thing in Lillehammer in Norway. I was excited and looking forward to it.”
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.