Wednesday, January 29, 2014
With 18 gold medals this winter, the U.S. sliding teams clearly know the way to the podium.
And now the biggest stage in sliding awaits.
The World Cup seasons in bobsled, skeleton and luge ended on Sunday, and the Americans wrapped them up with quite the medal haul. In bobsled and skeleton, the U.S. teams won 38 medals, more than any two nations combined. And Kate Hansen’s victory on Saturday was the first for any USA Luge singles slider since 1997.
Next up: The Sochi Olympics, which this whole season has been pointed toward. It would seem like American confidence isn’t in short supply, either.
“The momentum we’re building heading into the Olympics is incredible,” bobsledder Steven Holcomb said Sunday, not long after wrapping up the World Cup men’s overall driving title. “My team has worked so hard and sled technician Jim Garde has been working day in and out making sure the sled does exactly what I need it to. We came out today and put it all together, and it feels great to end the season on this note.”
Holcomb’s final World Cup outing was a winning one, him teaming with Curt Tomasevicz, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt to win a four-man race in Germany on Sunday. That foursome will be a gold-medal favorite in Sochi, just as USA-1 was four years ago when Holcomb drove the red, white and blue to gold at the Vancouver Olympics.
“We’re right where we want to be going into Sochi,” Holcomb said.
He was talking about his team. It can be said about pretty much all the U.S. sliders.
In bobsledding, six different drivers won medals for the U.S. this winter, and all six of them are going to Sochi. Elana Meyers won seven — two gold and five silvers — to lead all women’s pilots, and now she’ll look to add a driving medal to the bronze she won as a push athlete four years ago.
“At the end of the day we’re sliding down a hill, and I can’t think of anything better I’d rather be doing on a Sunday afternoon,” said Meyers, who finished one point shy of Canada’s Kaillie Humphries for the overall women’s World Cup title this season. “I’m having a blast.”
Winning tends to bring that out.
In skeleton, Noelle Pikus-Pace won seven medals on the circuit this winter, tied with Latvia’s Martins Dukurs and Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold for the most by any individual slider in the headfirst sport.
And like Holcomb, Pikus-Pace — who will retire after Sochi — ended her World Cup season with a victory.
“What a way to go into Sochi,” Pikus-Pace said. “Finishing the final World Cup with a win is definitely a confidence booster heading into the Olympics.”
Germans dominated in luge, as usual, winning 50 World Cup medals. The rest of the world, combined, won 49 this winter.
American lugers won five medals, with Chris Mazdzer having a part in three of them. He won two silvers in men’s singles, and was part of one silver-medal effort in a team relay, which is new to the Olympic program this winter.
Mazdzer finished the season a career-best fifth in World Cup points, earning him a spot in the medal-hopeful conversation for Sochi.
“To be honest it’s hard to summarize my season,” Mazdzer said. “Before this season I only had one World Cup finish that was a top 10 and that was on my home track in Lake Placid. This year, to have five top 10s and two medals, I’m pumped about that. And to be ranked fifth overall is a huge honor. You have so many good guys out there.”
And the best moment for USA Luge so far this year came Saturday. Hansen’s victory came in a race where Germany’s three Olympic-bound women’s lugers — led by Natalie Geisenberger, who had seven golds and one silver in her eight starts this winter — sat out to focus solely on Sochi, so it wasn’t exactly against the best possible field.
Still, it’s a win. And it’ll count.
“There’s more I could have done,” Hansen said, “but I’m really stoked by it all.”