WINTERBERG, Germany - Steve Holcomb, Carlo Valdes, Justin Olsen and Sam Michener wrapped up their four-person bobsled season with a ninth place finish Sunday to lead Team USA in the World Championship finale in Winterberg, Germany.
Holcomb, driving the Bo-Dyn built, AdvoCare-branded Night Train 2 bobsled, is a five-time World Champion and three-time Olympic medalist. The Utah resident was disappointed to finish outside the top six, let alone outside of the medals.
"It's frustrating," Holcomb said. "We put down four solid runs, but we were out of contention. We're going out there and doing the best we can. We didn't make any major mistakes. My guys are relatively new, and they did a great job, and that's really all I can ask. We gave our best effort from start to finish."
The only familiar face on Holcomb's team this season was Olsen, who was a member of Holcomb's 2010 Olympic gold medal winning team. Olsen was the only Olympic push athlete to return to the national team, and was a leader for the rookie roster. Valdes competed in his first season, while Michener was promoted from the development circuits to USA-1 after showing significant progression in the sport.
His crew’s start times were ranked in the mid teens, limiting their ability to contend for the podium. The result ended a streak of six years that saw Holcomb pile up three gold medals and three bronze medals in the Olympics and World Championships.
Holcomb, Olsen, Valdes and Michener pushed nearly identical starts in all four heats of the competition: 5.15 and 5.16 yesterday and 5.16 in both heats today. Holcomb piloted the Night Train 2 sled to the finish in 54.02 and 54.10 seconds to maintain the crew's overnight position of ninth with a combined time of 3:36.41.
German pilots Maximilian Arndt, Francesco Friedrich and Nico Walther were just 0.08 of a second from one another after day one, and the Germans made a valiant effort to overthrow Latvian Oskars Melbardis from the medals.
Just 0.03 seconds separated Arndt, Melbardis and Walther after today's opening heat and Friedrich was within striking distance of bronze, making the fourth and final run of the season a fierce battle for the medals. The top 17 sleds in yesterday's first heat clocked times under the former track record of 54.54 seconds, which was set by Germany's Andre Lange in November 2008. The record fell yesterday to 53.69 seconds after a blistering second run by Friedrich. The top four teams slid to the finish under the track record in today's first heat, led by Walther's blistering time of 53.48 seconds.
Arndt and his push crew of Alexander Roediger, Kevin Korona and Ben Heber clocked a four-run combined time of 3:34.89 to take the victory in a nail-biting final run. The Germans were victorious by a mere 0.02 of a second over their teammates Walther, Andreas Bredau, Marko Huebenbecker and Christian Poser.
Melbardis and his team of Daumants Dreiskens, Arvis Vilkaste and Janis Strenga were able to hang on to a medal position and deny the Germans a sweep of the podium. The Latvians finished third in 3:35.01. Friedrich and his team of Candy Bauer, Martin Grothkopp and Thortsen Margis missed the medals by just 0.05 of a second.
Nick Cunningham and his crew of Alex Harrison, Adam Clark and James Reed finished 14th with a combined time of 3:37.18. The crew, which has only pushed together as a combination a few times this season, posted start times of 5.12 and 5.13 seconds.
Cunningham navigated the team to the finish in 54.36 seconds in today's first heat before throwing down a speedy final run of 54.06 seconds to move the team up from yesterday.
Codie Bascue teamed with Casey Wickline, David Cremin and Adrian Adams in the Classroom Champions sled for 20th place with a four-run combined time of 3:37.98. The crew clocked starts of 5.20 seconds in both heats today for runs of 54.49 and 54.39 seconds. Bascue's final heat of 54.39 was his fastest trip of the competition.
Team USA will return to Lake Placid, N.Y. this week to prepare for the 2015 National Championships. The team will continue to train in Lake Placid for the remainder of the season.
"The season is not over for another month," Holcomb said. "It'll be a challenging few weeks still, but we're keeping our motivation high and we're looking forward to getting back to the U.S. after being in Europe since the end of December."
1. Arndt, Roediger, Korona and Heber (GER) 3:34.89 (53.83, 53.78, 53.53, 53.75); 2. Walther, Bredau, Huebenbecker and Poser (GER) 3:34.91 (53.83, 53.86, 53.48, 53.74); 3. Malbardis, Dreiskens, Vilkaste and Strenga (LAT) 3:35.01 (53.80, 53.73, 53.62, 53.86);...9. Holcomb, Olsen, Valdes and Michener (USA) 3:36.41 (54.20, 54.09, 54.02, 54.10);..14. Cunningham, Clark, Harrison and Reed (USA) 3:37.18 (54.35, 54.41, 54.36, 54.06);...20. Bascue, Wickline, Cremin and Adams 3:37.98 (USA) (54.60, 54.50, 54.49, 54.39);