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USA Skeleton collects six medals in NAC opener

November 7, 2017
Lake Placid News

WHISTLER, British Columbia - USA Skeleton got off to a strong start on the North American Cup in Whistler over the weekend, medaling five times in four races to kick off the 2017-2018 season.

Kelly Curtis won the first American gold medal of the young season while teammates Austin Florian and Samantha Culiver took two silvers apiece to lead Team USA. Veronica Day also earned a bronze medal in the season-opener.

"I'm very happy with the NAC results, but I'm more happy with how the team worked prior to the race to understand the hardest and fastest track on the circuit," USA Skeleton coach Orvie Garrett said. "They all did a great job."

The trio of Curtis, Culiver and Day swept the podium in Saturday's race. Curtis was especially impressive, tying for the fastest start of the first heat - a 5.04-second push - with teammate Kristen Hurley en route to a 55.70 downtime. Curtis' 1:51.63 combined time beat out second place Culiver by 0.11 seconds.

Curtis is a former Springfield College heptathlete, and was competing in her first international races since 2014-2015. Saturday's win was her first skeleton gold medal and third overall medal in her career.

"I'm pretty excited about my first NAC win," Curtis said. "I'm on a new sled on a new track, so I just tried to put together everything I've learned from coaches and other sliders. I'm excited to develop this season with the help of the coaching staff and supportive teammates."

Culiver, meanwhile, threw down the fastest run of the first heat, a 55.65-second downtime, and the fourth fastest of the second heat to finish in 1:51.74 for a silver medal. She edged her teammate Day, who took bronze, by just one-hundredth of a second. Hurley, a former national team bobsledder, finished ninth in her first international race as a skeleton athlete.

Florian was the top U.S. finisher in the opening men's race, taking silver behind Italian Joseph Cecchini. Florian's 1:47.72 combined downtime was highlighted by a 4.59-second second heat start time, the fastest of the entire competition. Cecchini posted the fastest time of each heat, however, to win the competition in 1:46.87, while Switzerland's Ronald Auderset took bronze in 1:47.98.

The 23-year-old Florian was an alpine skier before switching over to skeleton, and is one of Team USA's most promising up-and-coming sliders.

"I'm very excited to get my first international medal, and even more so to back it up in the second race," he said. "I had a great time at the Whistler track and am very happy with how I'm sliding and pushing right now. I'm ready to move on to Calgary to see what I can do there."

Americans Austin McCrary, Andrew Blaser and Mike Brandt finished in sixth, seventh and eighth place, respectively. McCrary strung together two solid runs, recording the fourth fastest downtime of each heat to finish in sixth with a 1:48.30 combined time, while Blaser and Brandt were separated by just 0.03 seconds. Blaser edged Brandt by posting a faster second-run downtime than his teammate, and finished with a 1:48.81 combined downtime compared to Brandt's 1:48.84.

Culiver repeated her silver medal effort in the second race Sunday, missing out on gold by just four-hundredths of a second. Once again, her second heat was her strongest, as she threw down the fastest run to jump from third into second. She nearly passed eventual winner Lanette Prediger of Canada as well, but Prediger's 1:52.31 combined time allowed her to hold on for the win. Culiver strung together runs of 56.36 and 55.99 seconds to hold off bronze medalist Jeonghyeok Lee of Korea.

Day was Team USA's next best finisher, taking fourth with a combined downtime of 1:53.10, while Hurley improved to sixth with downtimes of 57.16 and 57.94. Meanwhile, Curtis had another blazing run in the first heat, shredding the competition with a 55.40-second heat, nearly eight-tenths of a second ahead of Prediger. However, Curtis crashed in the second run and was more than three seconds slower than her first run, which moved her down to seventh.

USA Skeleton coach Brian McDonald spoke highly of Curtis' sliding, and noted that the young slider has been getting better each time she steps onto the ice.

"Kelly's performance in the first race was amazing," McDonald said. "We watched her improve all week leading up to official training, and she came through big time on race day. She learned a valuable lesson in the second race after leading in the first run then crashing in curve four. You can't lose focus for one second on this track or it will cost you."

Florian slid the fastest run of the second heat of race two for the men to propel himself from fourth to the silver medal. Utilizing the second fastest push of the second heat, a 4.60, Florian surpassed Auderset to claim his second international medal. His 1:47.60 combined downtime was second only to Japan's Katsuyuki Miyajima, who had a dominant first run and finished in 1:47.11. Auderset ended up with the bronze in 1:47.71.

McCrary had another strong race, rallying in the second heat for the fourth fastest run to jump from ninth to fourth. Blaser finished in eighth with a 1:49.05 combined downtime, while Brandt took 11th to round out Team USA's results.

The NAC skeleton team next travels to Calgary, where they race this weekend. NAC bobsled continues in Whistler with four-man races Monday and Tuesday before joining skeleton in Calgary.



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