Team USA takes comfort in return of World Cup events in North America
Season’s start features first North American events since onset of pandemic
The 2022-23 IBSF World Cup started in Whistler in late November before heading to Park City last week and then stopping in Lake Placid, New York, next week.
These three events are the first World Cup races to be held in North America since late 2019. The next two, pandemic-affected seasons saw the World Cup stay entirely in Europe. Bobsled and skeleton athletes are used to long stints away from home, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy for them. Combine that with the World Cup returning to Park City for the first time since 2017, and it was a cathartic week for Team USA’s sliders.
“It’s awesome, I’ve been missing it,” said skeleton athlete Austin Florian, who finished sixth in Thursday’s men’s skeleton competition. “We haven’t been to Placid since 2019, it was the last time we were (in the U.S.). It’s so exciting to go to Whistler, Park City, Lake Placid, some of my favorite tracks and my home (in Lake Placid), too. I’ll be having a bunch of family support back at home in two weeks at Placid, so I’m looking forward to that.”
In addition to not having the familiar comforts of home, Florian noted that they have a little bit of a disadvantage when they’re in Europe.
“We don’t know the tracks as well,” he said. “We can still do well. It’s harder to be consistent. We know these tracks a lot better, and it’s definitely fun to be home and have some success at home and take that momentum over to Europe.”
For reference, Florian is in his fifth season on the World Cup circuit, and this was just his seventh event in North America. Bobsledder Adrian Adams is a seasoned World Cup veteran, making his debut in 2014, but Saturday’s four-man race was his first in Park City. He missed out in 2017 due to injury, but his team finished seventh on Saturday.
“It’s been quite an adjustment not being able to compete in North America the past few years due to COVID and whatnot,” Adams said. “We were happy to be home here in Park City today, and a seventh-place finish today is not something too much to frown upon. Just continuing to build towards the future of the season, towards world championships.”
Bobsledder Kaillie Humphries, who won a gold medal in women’s monobob in Beijing, has made the most out of the World Cup’s start in North America. Humphries took home a couple of third-place finishes in Whistler and then in Park City won gold in women’s monobob and bronze in the two-woman event. She said one of the effects of hosting World Cup events is growing interest in the sport.
“It’s been challenging, I think, for all the North American teams, Canada and U.S. as a whole,” she said. “Just in regards to viewership and recruitment and having access to the sport for a lot of people. It’s definitely hard when you don’t have races on this side, so to be able to be back here is awesome. Hopefully we can get more women out participating in the sport and knowing about the sport as a whole.”
Park City caught the World Cup fever, and not just the soccer kind. During the four-man event Saturday afternoon, the track was lined with plenty of spectators cheering on the sleds as they whizzed past them down the track at the Utah Olympic Park. The athletes could feel that kind of energy, especially on Team USA.
“Just hearing that USA chant, I’ve been on podiums before in track and field representing our country at the Olympics and world championships, so I’m used to that,” bobsledder Manteo Mitchell said. “It was good to have that atmosphere. It gives you a little bit more umph, a little bit more pride to just go out and really represent and do your best, give your best effort.”
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“It was nice to get up and feel that relief,” Betsy Hochman said about her bike crash. “To see that everything was still good and to know that I could finish. So I took a deep breath and I kept going.”
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