IGLS, Austria (Feb. 20, 2016)- After the first two heats of four-person bobsled World Championships, Team USA is positioned in 16th and 19th. Two-time Olympian Nick Cunningham (Monterey, Calif.) and his push crew of Casey Wickline (Greenville, S.C.), James Reed (Garmisch, Germany) and Sam Michener (Gresham, Ore.) lead Team USA in 16th. After an error loading into the sled in the first heat, three-time Olympic medalist Steven Holcomb (Park City, Utah) and his team of Frank Del Duca (Bethel, Maine), Carlo Valdes (Newport Beach, Calif.) and Sam McGuffie (Cypress, Texas) could only manage 19th place.
"There's no question that the track here in Igls will expose any weakness at the start," said Brian Shimer, USA Bobsled head coach. "It's hard to overcome that. Everybody has to be at 100 percent and on mark or it's going to show on a short track like this. Holcomb is coming off two years of rehab and hasn't been able to train like the Olympic champion he is, and Cunningham has struggled with injuries this season as well. When it comes down to hundredths of a second making a huge difference in results, it shows that we are not really ready."
Cunningham, Wickline, Reed and Michener looked clean from start to finish, but the crew still lacked speed today. They clocked push times of 5.09 and 5.16 for runs of 51.31 and 51.64 seconds, respectively. Team Cunningham enters tomorrow'sfinal heats in 16th position with a two-run total of 1:42.95.
The load in four-person bobsled takes perfect choreography, and mishaps are not uncommon as four powerful athletes load into the sled in a matter of seconds. As snow steadily fell throughout the afternoon, the bunks of the sled became slippery and clogged athletes' spikes, making the dance of loading even more precarious than normal. At least four teams had trouble at the start today, including Holcomb's crew.
As Team USA prepared to load, Del Duca's foot slipped and he entered the sled in a crouched position behind Holcomb. Unable to situate himself, Del Duca rode the entire run in that position. The team's start and finish times suffered, placing the team 23rd out of 30 sleds with push and run times of 5.10 and 51.52 seconds.
The crew was cautious at the start in the second heat, but everyone loaded cleanly for a push time of 5.12. Holcomb piloted the Night Train 2 up four positions into 19th with a run of 51.67 seconds for a total of 1:43.19.
"It's a learning experience for everybody," Shimer said. "It's good for these guys to compete against the best in the world in their first and second year in the sport. Normally we have an experienced team at worlds, but we don't have that luxury right now. It's a quick learning curve. These guys are up for the challenge, but it's been a wakeup call. We need to turn rookies into veterans before the season starts, and that means getting athletes better at pushing by pushing. We need to reexamine how we do that before next year."
Team Germany's crew of Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Gregor Bermbach and Thorsten Margis are the current race leaders by 0.27 seconds with a two-run total of 1:41.73. A second German team of Nico Walther, Marko Huebenbecker, Christian Poser and Eric Franke are in second position with a cumulative time of 1:42.00. Russia's Alexander Kasjanov, Aleksei Pushkarev, Ilvir Huzin and Aleksey Zaytsev are in bronze medal position with a combined total of 1:42.01.
Racing continues tomorrow with the final two heats of the four-person bobsled World Championships. Tomorrow also features a four-woman exhibition race in the morning.
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1. Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Gregor Bermbach, Thorsten Margis (GER) 1:41.73 (50.61, 51.12);
2. Nico Walther, Marko Huebenbecker, Christian Poser, Eric Franke (GER) 1:42.00 (50.77, 51.23);
3. Alexander Kasjanov, Aleksei Pushkarev, Ilvir Huzin, Aleksey Zaytsev (RUS) 1:42.01 (50.76, 51.25);
16. Nick Cunningham, Casey Wickline, James Reed, Sam Michener (USA) 1:42.95 (51.31, 51.63);
19. Steven Holcomb, Frank Del Duca, Carlo Valdes, Sam McGuffie (USA) 1:43.19 (51.52, 51.67);
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