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For Steven Holcomb: U.S. gets 3 medals in World Cup bobsled opener

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. (AP) — Some of Steven Holcomb’s ashes are scattered at Mount Van Hoevenberg, the track where the longtime U.S. bobsled driver dominated like no other for about the last two decades. His initials are on the speedsuits that his teammates will wear this season. His words still echo in their heads.

He’s gone.

He’s clearly not forgotten.

For the first time in nearly two decades, the U.S. raced in a World Cup bobsled competition without Holcomb — the three-time Olympic medalist — on the roster.

They took three of the six available medals Thursday, a silver in women’s bobsled from Elana Meyers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs, silver in two-man from Nick Cunningham and Ryan Bailey and bronze from Codie Bascue and Carlo Valdes.

“We miss him every day,” said brakeman Steven Langton, who unretired a year ago with hopes of racing with Holcomb this season and was sixth with driver Justin Olsen in his first World Cup since 2014. “I miss him every day. We’re going to do the best job we can to honor him throughout the season.”

Holcomb died unexpectedly in his sleep in May at his dorm room inside the Olympic Training Center, where USA Bobsled and Skeleton has its offices and where many sliders live, lift and sleep when they’re in Lake Placid.

Holcomb won the two-man World Cup gold at Lake Placid a year ago, and Cunningham nearly followed suit Thursday.

He had to settle for second, one spot behind Germans Nico Walther and Christian Poser.

Walther and Poser, the husband of U.S. women’s bobsled pilot Jamie Greubel Poser, finished two runs in 1 minutes, 51.92 seconds. Cunningham and Bailey — a U.S. Olympian in track at the London Games — finished in 1:52.03. Full results are here.

“I needed this to, I don’t want to say resurrect my career, but last year was so hard mentally, emotionally,” said Cunningham, who matched his best World Cup finish after spending some of last season racing in the lesser international tiers. “I regained the love of the sport.”

Bascue got on a World Cup podium for the first time.

“Amazing feeling,” Bascue said. “A little bit of an emotional race, my first race without Holcy, but I took that and kind of used the emotion and it’s nice to be on the podium for the first time.”

It was far from a first podium trip for Kaillie Humphries, who went to bobsled school in Lake Placid and clearly paid attention in class.

The two-time reigning Olympic champion from Canada got her season off to a winning start, teaming with Melissa Lotholz to win gold at Mount Van Hoevenberg in the World Cup women’s bobsled season-opener. It was the fourth time Humphries won in Lake Placid, where she drove a bobsled for the first time in 2006 and quickly became one of the sport’s stars.

“To beat the Americans on any track is difficult,” Humphries said.

Humphries’ two-run time was 1:54.40. She edged longtime friend and rival Meyers Taylor, who paired with Gibbs to finish in 1:54:43 — with a start record in there as well.

Germany got the bronze, with Stephanie Schneider and Lisa Marie Buchwitz finishing in 1:54.60 and nipping Greubel Poser and Aja Evans of the U.S. by .01. Full results are here.

“I love this track just as much as anybody,” said Humphries, whose hair was dyed in the colors of the South Korean flag in a nod to the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics. “I’ve been driving it for numerous years and I’m really happy to do it justice today.”

It was the 13th time that Humphries and Meyers Taylor finished first and second in a World Cup, world championship or Olympic competition. Humphries now has won seven of those, Meyers Taylor six.

“She had a good day. I didn’t have a great day. That’s kind of how it goes,” Meyers Taylor said. “I don’t expect this to be the trend, though.”

Greubel Poser, who won at Lake Placid each of the last two seasons, settled for fourth on her 34th birthday.

“So much went into preparing for this season, it was different for a lot of different reasons for us,” Evans said. “I think to get over this first hurdle with this first race in Lake Placid, it was big just to get it out of the way. Now we can move on and keep pursuing PyeongChang.”

Earlier Thursday, Austrian Janine Flock won the World Cup skeleton season opener in Lake Placid by .26 over Canadian Elisabeth Vathje.

Olympic champion Lizzy Yarnold of Great Britain was third, .33 behind, followed by Olympic bronze medalist Elena Nikitina of Russia.

The top American was three-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender in ninth, sandwiched between the last two world champions from Germany — Jacqueline Loelling and Tina HermannFull results are here.

Races conclude in Lake Placid with two-man bobsled and men’s skeleton Friday.

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MORE: U.S. bobsledders remember Steven Holcomb as Olympic season starts

Erin Hamlin nears end of historic U.S. luge career

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Erin Hamlin is looking forward to normalcy. She is getting married next summer in her hometown. She is thinking about career moves. She is trying to figure out the rest of her life.

It is probably her last luge season. It is definitely her last Olympic season.

As such, it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that winning a gold medal at PyeongChang in February would be the only thing that makes this season a success.

It’s important, sure, but Hamlin is entering her 13th year of World Cup racing with a much broader view and insisting that she’s going to enjoy whatever time she has left on her sled.

“I’m not going to hyperfocus myself on one result or bust,” Hamlin said. “Very likely, it’s going to be my last time in a lot of places, sliding on a lot of tracks. So I think more so, it’s going to be a lot of soaking it all in.”

That process starts Saturday, when the World Cup season opens in Igls, Austria.

Hamlin, who turns 31 on Sunday, is coming off the finest year of her career — she won a gold medal and two silvers at the world championships for the biggest haul ever by an American luger, got two World Cup wins and finished fourth in world rankings.

She might be going out, and there’s a chance she can go out on top.

“We’re working hard to convince her to stay,” longtime U.S. teammate Emily Sweeney said.

Sweeney knows that’s probably futile.

Sliders always tend to cycle out after an Olympics, no matter if it’s bobsled, skeleton or luge, and the Americans will see plenty of veterans take their last rides this winter.

A few U.S. sliders already retired this fall, in part because they weren’t going to have a shot at an Olympic berth.

For her part, Hamlin hasn’t officially said this is the end.

“There’s never really as concrete of a plan as you hope there would be, because you never know what can happen,” Hamlin said. “But at the moment, what I’m excited to do is see what other opportunities are there and what other adventures await.”

Hamlin has been in the world’s top 10 in each of the past 11 seasons — the second-longest current streak of any woman in luge, one year behind German legend Tatjana Huefner.

She won a World Cup each of the past three years, took the world title in sprint last winter and became the first U.S. Olympic singles luge medalist in 2014 with a bronze.

A lesson learned that season: Not expecting much can work wonders. That’s one of the reasons why PyeongChang isn’t taking up all the bandwidth in her brain.

“That’s the nature of winter sports in a Winter Olympic year, there being so much focus on the Games,” Hamlin said. “How I went into the last Olympics taught me a lot. I had no expectation of walking away from the last Olympics with a medal. At this point, goal No. 1 is to make the team and beyond that, I know if I slide as I’m capable of I can be pretty fast and I can do well.”

The schedule this season is hectic.

This weekend’s stop in Austria starts a run of five races in five weekends, with the next two in Germany followed by another in Calgary, Alberta, and then on home ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 15-16.

When that Lake Placid World Cup is over, the U.S. Olympic team will be named.

So when Hamlin needs an escape from all that, the wedding is there to bring her back to reality.

It will be at her parents’ home in July. It will, without question, be the social event of the season in Remsen, N.Y., where the one-time high school soccer player has annually left her tiny hometown brimming with pride.

“Pretty exciting,” Hamlin said. “It’s definitely adding a whole new aspect to an Olympic year, planning a wedding, but it’s cool. It gives me a good distraction when I need to think about something other than sliding.”

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MORE: U.S. luge head coach steps down due to Parkinson’s

Kaetlyn Osmond leads Grand Prix France as co-favorite falls (video)

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Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond topped the Grand Prix France short program, moving closer to another Grand Prix Final berth on Friday.

The world silver medalist was flawed — performing a triple-double combination rather than a triple-triple and putting a hand down on another jump landing.

She goes into Saturday’s free skate with a 1.26-point lead over Russian Maria Sotskova. Japan’s Yuna Shiraiwa is third, while the lone American Polina Edmunds is ninth.

Co-favorite Alina Zagitova of Russia fell and dropped to fifth place in Grenoble.

In the short dance, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron improved on their personal best with 81.40 points, the third-highest all-time in an eight-year-old system.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres by 4.66 going into Saturday’s pairs free skate.

The event continues later Friday with the men’s short, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

GP FRANCE: Full Results | TV Schedule

Osmond, 21, was a revelation last season, winning her first Grand Prix medals in four years, making her first Grand Prix Final and finishing second to dominant Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva at worlds.

She’s continued that this fall, winning her first two events in Canada to solidify Olympic medal favorite status. One Canadian woman has won an individual Olympic medal in the last 25 years — Joannie Rochette‘s emotional bronze in 2010.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, fell on her opening triple Lutz. Zagitova won her Grand Prix debut in China two weeks ago and ranks second to training partner Medvedeva in top scores this season.

Medvedeva, Zagitova and Sotskova are the favorites to claim Russia’s three Olympic women’s spots. Sotskova, 17, made the podium in all three of her Grand Prix starts but was a disappointing eighth at last season’s worlds.

Edmunds tallied 56.31 points Friday, stepping out of the landing of her opening triple-triple jump combination.

Still, she improved on her short program from her earlier event this season, where she scored 49.62 with errors on all of her jumps.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. Olympic competitor across all sports in Sochi, went 20 months between competitions, missing the entire 2016-17 season due to a bone bruise in her right foot.

She is an underdog to make the three-woman U.S. team for PyeongChang that will be named after nationals in January.

Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva continued her string of underwhelming programs since her 2015 World title. She fell on a triple Axel attempt and singled a Lutz, plummeting to last place of 11 skaters.

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Internationaux de France
Women’s Short Program
1. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 69.05
2. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 67.79
3. Yuna Shiraiwa (JPN) — 66.05
9. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 56.31

Short Dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 81.40
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 73.55
3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 70.02
6. Elliana Pogrebinsky/Alex Benoit (USA) — 60.64

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 77.84
2. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 73.18
3. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 70.65
6. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran (USA) — 58.99