CALGARY, Alberta - Athletes, coaches and staff members wearing USA on their backs clapped, laughed and applauded as teammates snaked their way down the 1988 Olympic course Thursday. The team competition is held only a few times a year, and is one of the most highly anticipated events by athletes from all nations.
"This is the happiest I've ever been after a race," said Brian Shimer, men's bobsled head coach. "We're all in the car laughing because the team competitions are such a blast. It's the only time we really race as one federation instead of being divided by disciplines, and everyone from the coaches to the athletes enjoys these events."
Athletes from women's skeleton, women's bobsled, men's skeleton and men's two-man bobsled took one run each for their nation. Runs from all four disciplines were combined to determine the winner of the event. The U.S. fielded two teams in the event, which included soldier-athlete John Napier of Lake Placid who returned from Afghanistan just three weeks ago.
"Jumping back in a bobsled is like riding a bike for Napier," Shimer said. "You wouldn't know he's been off the ice for so long and sliding for just a week this season. He's not as physically powerful and strong as he was before he left for the desert, but his driving skills are right where he left off. We're glad to have him back."
Napier teamed with brakeman Jesse Beckom for the two-man bobsled event to help the first U.S. team to finish fifth with a four-run total of 3 minutes, 49.88 seconds. Annie O'Shea and Matt Antoine took their turns in women's skeleton and men's skeleton, respectively, and Bree Schaaf teamed with rookie JennaBree Tollestrup-Brown to help push the team to a fifth place finish. Tonight was Tellestrup-Brown's first World Cup competition.
"This is a great opportunity for our young and rookie athletes to compete in a race without a lot of pressure," Shimer said. "It's a World Cup experience, which is priceless."
Jamie Greubel also made her World Cup debut as a driver Thursday with first-year push athlete Kristi Koplin. Greubel competed with the second U.S. team entered into the event, and helped the team secure a sixth place finish with a total time of 3:50.48.
"We don't see the skeleton athletes much during the week, so it was fun to compete together as a team," Greuebel said. "We're here as team USA, and we forget that sometimes, which is what makes this event so great."
Skeleton athletes Kimber Gabryszak and John Daly teamed with Greubel along with men's bobsledders Ethan Albrecht-Carrie and Jared Clugston to finish sixth.
The German team edged out the host nation by 1.49 seconds for the victory with a combined time of 3:47.86. Canada claimed silver with a four-run total of 3:49.35, while the Russian squad combined efforts for a bronze medal performance with a total time of 3:49.61.
"I had so much fun," Greubel said. "What a great warm up for tomorrow, and it's exciting to have the opportunity to take part in this before the women's bobsled race."
World Cup action continues with the women's bobsled event today at 11 p.m., while the men's two-man bobsled competition will take place at 3 p.m.