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Cadyville pilot opens NAC season with 4 medals

November 8, 2017
Lake Placid News

WHISTLER, British Columbia - Pilot Hunter Church, along with his crew of Hakeem Abdul Saboor, rookie Josh Williamson and Lou Moreira, began the 2017-2018 season on a high note last weekend in Whistler by collecting a gold, a silver and two bronze medals in North American Cup competition.

"I'm really proud of not only the guys that are behind me, but the crew we have here in Whistler," said Church, a resident of Cadyville. "We had run into some sled issues, and they're really the biggest reason we could get back on the track. Yesterday, our frame had cracked, and we were at the track for eight hours getting it welded. There's a lot of good to build off of heading into Calgary, Canada for the next stop on tour."

The 20-year-old product of Lake Placid's junior bobsled program handled both his two-man and four-man sleds beyond his years, especially since he has never driven four-man on the notoriously difficult Whistler track. Church began the weekend by taking bronze in both of the two-man races with Abdul-Saboor, then topped the field in the first four-man competition before missing out on another win by 0.01 seconds in the second race, settling for silver instead.

In a series of races that saw multiple crashes in the two-man, four-man and women's events, Church and his crew were the only team to medal in each race.

"Last time I was here was two years ago in a two-man race and I crashed," he said. "This was an anxious week going in, for sure. I was excited, but when everyone started dropping, I knew we had to hold it together."

Church and Abdul-Saboor finished just 0.23 seconds out of first in the opening two-man race, which was shortened to one heat due to multiple crashes in the first run. Korean Youngjun Suk pulled out the win in 52.11 seconds, while Canadian Jeff McKeen and Church followed him in 52.19 and 52.34, respectively.

In the opening women's bobsled race, pilots Nicole Vogt and Kristi Koplin, racing with Bonnie Kilis and Nicole Brundgardt, fell victim to the track and crashed. Each managed to cross the finish line, however, resulting in 11th and 13th place finishes, respectively. Yooran Kim and Seonhye Lee of Korea took first and second in 53.47 and 53.48 seconds, while Qing Ying of China ended up in the bronze medal position.

Vogt took sixth in the second women's race of the weekend, this time with Sable Otey in the back of her sled. The pair's second run was particularly strong, as they posted the fourth fastest downtime of the heat. Canadian Julie Johnson won the race with a 1:46.83 combined downtime, followed by Jamaican Jazmine Fenlator and Lee in silver and bronze.

Church and Abdul-Saboor won their second consecutive bronze in the second two-man race, threading together runs of 52.42 and 52.41 seconds to finish behind only Canadian Taylor Austin, who posted a combined downtime of 1:44.04, and Suk, who ended with a time of 1:44.31. Geoff Gadbois and Frank Del Duca finished fifth after a strong first heat that saw them sitting in second. A crash resulted in the 10th best time of the second heat though, and saw them drop to fifth.

The first four-man competition was also shortened to one run due to crashes, but Church, Abdul-Saboor, Moreira and Williamson dominated the one-heat race by three-tenths of a second. Their 51.50-second downtime beat out silver medalist Pius Meyerhans of Switzerland and Austin.

Brazilian Edson Bindilatti squeaked out a win in the final four-man race, defeating Church by just one-hundredth of a second with a 1:43.38 combined downtime. Meyerhans finished third in 1:43.51.

Church said though he was proud of his team's results in Whistler, Team USA is ready to regroup and move onto next weekend's races in Calgary.

"Eleven days straight on this track is mentally grueling," he said. "Calgary you still have to be on your 'A' game, but I think we're all looking forward to a couple days of travel."



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