PARK CITY, Utah -- U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program Soldiers defended home snow as if Olympic dreams depended upon their performances at the International Bobsled & Skeleton Federation's 2013 World Cup stop, Dec. 6-7, at Utah Olympic Park.
Capt. Chris Fogt, Sgt. Nick Cunningham, Sgt. Dallas Robinson and Olympic gold medalist Sgt. Justin Olsen all solidified their chances of being selected for the U.S. Olympic bobsled team that will compete at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, scheduled for Feb. 6-24, in Sochi, Russia.
Led by former World Class Athlete Program, or WCAP, bobsled driver and hometown hero Steven Holcomb, the reigning Olympic and five-time World champion, Soldiers past and present occupied the top four spots on the two-man bobsled podium Friday night. Holcomb and Fogt won the event with a two-run cumulative time of 1 minute, 35.51 seconds.
Cunningham and Robinson earned their first career World Cup two-man medals by finishing second in 1:35.76. The WCAP duo powered the 24 Hour Fitness-branded BMW sled off the starting block in 4.86 seconds, and Cunningham drove them into second place among 25 sleds with a first run of 47.84 seconds. Despite a few mistakes in the second heat, they managed to claim the silver medal.
Germany's Francesco Friedrich and Jannis Baecker took the bronze with a time of 1:35.80. Team USA civilians Cory Butner, of Yucaipa, Calif., and Chuck Berkeley, of Walnut Creek, Calif., finished fourth in 1:35.93.
"You can tell the depth and drive of this team," said Cunningham, of Monterey, Calif. "Our results really do show that we are here, we know it is the Olympic season, and we all have to work a little harder. We all have to work as a team to get these kinds of results. I think we did all come together this week. The sled techs have been working around the clock. They have really showed why we are one of the best teams in the world. We have great coaching, support staff, sled builders, mechanics. It has really shown that we have the tools to win."
Robinson, of Owensboro, Ky., was elated to win the silver medal.
"I'm really fortunate to have this opportunity to represent the United States and serve the United States through the Army World Class Athlete Program," Robinson said. "As a Soldier-athlete, I couldn't be more proud. This is Nick's first podium finish, my first podium finish, and we're going into an Olympic year. I'm just blessed beyond recognition."
"It is a great day for the United States, finishing 1-2-4," Holcomb added. "It is the right time to have everyone doing well, and seeing everyone click is really good. My guys are motivated and pumped up in seeing our success today. I think it is going to motivate them even more tomorrow. We've worked really hard on these sleds since October and we are starting to see them really come around."
On Saturday, Holcomb drove his Night Train2 team of Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton and Fogt to his fourth consecutive victory of this young World Cup season with a two-run cumulative time of 1:34.76 in the four-man event. Holcomb's squads also won both the two- and four-man races at the season opener in Calgary, Canada.
"Overall, it was a really good race," Holcomb said. "It is nice to come home and show that my home track is still my track. We have to keep our momentum going. 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."
USA-1 powered through the steadily falling snow as the first sled down the hill, and was tied with two other sleds for the lead with a run of 47.36 seconds after 24 sleds completed the first heat.
The German squad of Maximilian Arndt, Marko Huebenbecker, Alexander Roediger and Martin Putze, along with Russians Alexander Kasjanov, Phillipp Egorov, Maxim Belugin and Aleksei Pushkarev, threatened to end Holcomb's winning streak by posting the identical time for a three-way tie after Heat 1.
"A three-way tie for first place was huge," Holcomb said. "That is what racing is all about."
Holcomb, Tomasevicz, Langton and Fogt responded in the second run with a push time of 4.78 seconds, 0.06 seconds shy of the track record, to separate from the field at the start.
"My brakemen were great," Holcomb said. "To push a 4.78 in snow is great. In good weather my push crew would be hunting down the track record. I cleaned up my second run. The push crew did their job. I did my job, and we came away with the victory."
Maximilian's quartet of Germans finished second (1:35.11), followed by Kasjanov's Russian crew (1:35.12).
Cunningham, Olsen, Johnny Quinn and Abe Morlu finished in a tie for 15th place with Germany's second sled in 1:35.48.
"The guys gave me a good push in the first run, but I made a few crucial driving errors and the time showed," Cunningham said. "You never want to fall back in the second run, especially after we were already at the back of the pack. Hopefully we will go into Lake Placid with a little chip on our shoulder and we can compete better there. We'll have to throw this one away and focus on next week."
Olsen was surprised that being just .34 seconds off the lead pace of the first heat put the squad in 16th place after the first run.
"Thirty-four hundredths is not that much time to make up, so I thought we were in a good position," said Olsen, a native of San Antonio. "I was pretty shocked that we were in 16th place, being just three-tenths back. It's a little frustrating to know that, but it's pretty cool knowing that in our sport you've got 18 people that can win the race -- that's what we're talking about -- that's racing.
"Our start times were good on the first heat. We made a little change and decided not to go as deep [on the push start] and it ended up hurting us a little bit," said Olsen. "We won't know until we get to watch the video, really, what happened, but I'm proud of Sergeant Cunningham today, and this is my first opportunity to get to race this season."
Olsen, a member of Holcomb's gold-medal winning four-man team at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, made his season debut after recovering from an off-season injury.
"I know there are tough decisions to be made, but I feel like when I'm healthy, I'm one of the best left-side pushers in the world," Olsen said.
Team USA plans to announce its Olympic bobsled roster Jan. 19, after World Cup stops in Lake Placid, N.Y. (Dec. 14), Winterberg, Germany (Jan. 5), St. Moritz, Switzerland (Jan. 11), and Igls, Austria (Jan. 19).