IGLS, Austria (Feb. 21, 2016)- The final heats of the four-person bobsled competition concluded the 2016 World Championships this morning. Nick Cunningham (Monterey, Calif.) and his push crew of Casey Wickline (Greenville, S.C.), James Reed (Garmisch, Germany) and Sam Michener (Gresham, Ore.) finished as the top American sled in 15th.
"This is a wakeup call, but I'd rather it happen now than in an Olympic year," Cunningham said. "We want to win. We need to regroup, train harder, and Team USA doing so poorly will be motivation. We're staying positive and we're going to take this as an opportunity to get better."
Team Cunningham started the day with a push time of 5.11 and downtime of 51.91 seconds. The crew gave everything they had left in the final heat for a start of 5.10 and a much-improved run of 51.42 seconds. Team USA finished 15th with a four-run combined time of 3:26.28.
"Rebuilding a program doesn't happen in a year or two years, it could take an entire quad," Cunningham said. "Ninety-percent of the guys on our team are new to the sport, and it's good for them to see what level we're up against, but we can't get down on ourselves. Two years ago we were the team to beat, and I believe that two years from now we'll be the team to beat again. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen with a lot of hard work and a little time."
Steven Holcomb (Park City, Utah) couldn't catch a break today. His brakeman, Sam McGuffie (Cypress, Texas), was injured while unloading the sled prior to the race and replaced last minute with Nic Taylor (Hayward, Calif.). Holcomb, Frank Del Duca (Bethel, Maine), Carlo Valdes (Newport Beach, Calif.) and Taylor finished their World Championships in 21st.
"In my entire career I've never not made the final run," Holcomb said. "It's tough to swallow. It shows where we are right now, and we're not that good. We're not doing well, and we need to make a lot of changes. We need better sleds, better runners, better starts. If there's anything positive to take away from this, it's the signal that we need to work harder."
Team Holcomb had a mishap at the start yesterday when Del Duca slipped while loading into the sled. Holcomb's crew wasn't the only crew to struggle; several teams from various nations had trouble choreographing their starts in the falling snow.
The team couldn't catch a break today when McGuffie injured his hand while unloading the sled prior to the race. He was replaced with Taylor, and the crew gave their best effort off the block for a start time of 5.15 seconds, 20th best of the heat. Velocity and speed were elusive to the team and they slid to the finish with only the 23rd best time of the heat, pushing them into 21st. Only the top 20 sleds qualify for a fourth and final heat, and Team Holcomb was a mere 0.03 seconds off the pace.
There was a lot of movement in the top three with today's final heats. Latvians Oskars Melbardis, Daumants Dreiskens, Arvis Vilkaste and Janis Strenga made a massive move from seventh to take the lead for the World Championship crown with a combined time of 3:24.27. The Latvians posted just the ninth and third best times yesterday, but rebounded with the fastest times of both heats today to nab gold.
Germans Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Gregor Bermbach and Thorsten Margis dropped back 0.04 seconds for the silver medal with a four-run total of 3:24.31. Switzerland's Rico Peter, Janne Bror van der Zijde, Thomas Amrhein and Simon Friedli also moved up today from fifth to claim bronze in 3:24.49.
Germans Nico Walther, Marko Huebenbecker, Christian Poser and Eric Franke were in second place headed into today's finale, but the crew dropped into fourth place. Russian Alexander Kasjanov was yesterday's third place holder, but he dropped into seventh.
The final heats of the four-person bobsled competition today were the final runs of the 2016 World Championships. Racing continues with the World Cup finale in Koenigssee, Germany next weekend.
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1. Oskars Melbardis, Daumants Dreiskens, Arvis Vilkaste, Janis Strenga (LAT) 3:24.27 (50.92, 51.22, 51.15, 50.98);
2. Francesco Friedrich, Candy Bauer, Gregor Bermbach, Thorsten Margis (GER) 3:24.31 (50.61, 51.12, 51.39, 51.19);
3. Rico Peter, Janne Bror van der Zijde, Thomas Amrhein, Simon Friedli (SUI) 3:24.49 (50.81, 51.24, 51.27, 51.17);
15. Nick Cunningham, Casey Wickline, James Reed, Sam Michener (USA) 3:26.28 (51.31, 51.64, 51.91, 51.42);
21. Steven Holcomb, Frank Del Duca, Carlo Valdes, Sam McGuffie (USA) 2:35.21 (51.52, 51.67, 52.02, DNS);
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