Mazdzer’s silver part of big sliding weekend
For one weekend, Germany was not the dominant sliding nation in the world. Neither was Canada, Italy, Russia nor any other country with a penchant for getting down ice-covered mountainside chutes with blazing speed.
No, this weekend, the United States stood alone.
And with the Sochi Olympics now just two months away, there might be no better time for the Americans to start flexing some muscle.
Winning 10 of the 18 medals awarded at the World Cup bobsled and skeleton stop in Park City, Utah, along with grabbing another medal at the luge World Cup in Whistler, British Columbia, would figure to give the Americans plenty of momentum heading into more races on home ice next weekend. The bobsled and skeleton teams will be racing in Lake Placid, while the luge team takes its turn at the 2002 Olympic track in Park City.
“We have to keep our momentum going,” USA-1 bobsled pilot Steven Holcomb said. “At this point, it is real easy to get complacent. The second we ease up the rest of the field will jump up and stop us. It is only going to get harder and harder the rest of the season.”
The final weekend tally was five gold medals, four silvers and two bronzes.
There were some big moments, like the women’s bobsled team sweeping the podium in a World Cup race for the first time since 2001, women’s skeleton star Noelle Pikus-Pace being dominant in her event, men’s luge racer Chris Mazdzer of Saranac Lake almost becoming the first American man in 16 years to win a World Cup race, former luge world champion Erin Hamlin clinching her berth in the Sochi Games and Kate Hansen virtually wrapping up another spot.
It was Mazdzer’s first career podium result, and came two weeks after finishing fourth and clinching a nomination to his second Olympic team.
For Hamlin, the Olympic trip was no surprise.
For Hansen, when she’s on the list of sliders USA Luge will announce this coming weekend as being Sochi-bound, it’ll finally put to rest four years of anguish over narrowly missing the team that raced at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
“I’m definitely a new person from four years ago until now,” Hansen said. “I’ve never prepared so much for something in my life. I’ve learned a lot. These past four years were a humbling four years. I learned a lot about the sport of luge and I learned a lot about myself. I’m more or less just grateful to be in this position. I just feel very prepared. So I’m ready to go.”
When it comes time to pick a women’s bobsled team, it won’t be easy for the Americans.
The roster of drivers won’t be difficult – Elana Meyers leads the World Cup standings, Jamie Greubel has been perhaps the surprise of the circuit so far and Jazmine Fenlator has been firmly entrenched in the USA-3 spot all season.
Choosing push athletes, though, that might take a while. Aja Evans seems like a lock and will almost certainly be with Meyers in USA-1, but Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams both pushed their sleds to silver medals (there was a tie) on Saturday.
Williams was recruited to the sport by Jones, and they share more than a few bonds: Elite track athletes, Olympic veterans, and medalists in their World Cup bobsled debuts, too. Saturday was Williams’ first-ever race on the top circuit.
“We have an incredibly strong program, the strongest ever this season,” Greubel said. “As a driver I’m so grateful to have so many great push athletes.”
Both the bobsled and luge teams are tinkering with some new sliding equipment this season, and there were some questions entering the World Cup schedule about whether it was smart to play around in an Olympic year.
So far, so good.
Luge athletes are raving about the changes they’ve made. Some BMW-designed sleds have made a huge difference for the bobsledders so far this season, and Holcomb’s four-man Bo-Dyn sled was simply the fastest down the Park City track.
“Team Holcomb is hot along with the American women’s bobsled teams,” said Geoff Bodine, the former NASCAR driver who turned his attention to building faster bobsleds a few years ago. “We at Bo-Dyn Bobsled are very proud of all the American bobsled athletes and wish them all continued good health and success. … It’s nice to see Steve’s crew and the sled have success right from the start of the season.”