LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — It was old hat for Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton, something new for the U.S. bobsled team.
Holcomb and Langton, the reigning world champions, won the World Cup two-man season opener Friday on their home track at Mount Van Hoevenberg, easily besting the competition. The difference this time was their stiffest challenge came from their teammates.
Cory Butner and Charles Berkeley finished second in USA-3 on a day that saw the U.S. women take silver and bronze in their race and Nick Cunningham and Andreas Drbal finish fifth among the men.
“We’ve been here for a month training and it’s pretty exciting to watch it pay off,” said Holcomb, also the reigning four-man world champion. “We’ll see if we can carry this momentum into the next couple of races. Starting in North America is definitely a good thing for us. I think moving forward we’re going to have three sleds that are going to be very competitive.”
Holcomb finished the two heats in 1 minute, 51.75 seconds, 0.60 seconds ahead of Butner. Francesco Friedrich and Gino Gerhardi of Germany took the bronze.
Cunningham had a sloppy second run that knocked him off the podium after posting the third-fastest time in the first heat.
“We missed it. It kind of feels like we let the team down,” Cunningham said after his second run, which was seventh-quickest of the 26-sled field. “We wish were up there with them. It’s hard when it’s in your grasp and (you make) one small driving error.”
Earlier, Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones won silver and Elana Meyers and Tianna Madison took the bronze in the women’s race behind winner Kaillie Humphries of Canada.
“It always motivates us when our women do really well,” Butner said after capturing his first career World Cup medal. “It kind of puts a little pressure on us. It was a really good day for all of us.”
Jones and Madison, a pair of track-and-field Olympic stars who decided to try bobsledding, couldn’t have imagined a better start to their new careers. Fenlator and Jones edged Meyers and Madison by a scant 0.01 seconds.
Welcome to the mountains.
“I’m kind of in shock,” said Jones, a two-time Olympic hurdler from Iowa. “We’ve been training with all the other Team USA members. It’s been an inner battle within our own team. I think this is great that we had a great run today on race day. I’m so used to just so relying on myself. I’ve never experienced this level of having a team before.”
Jamie Greubel and Aja Evans were ninth in USA-2 on a day the powerful Germans finished no better than fifth in a 16-sled field.
“I’m shocked,” Fenlator said after winning the first World Cup medal of her career. “In my wildest dreams, I did not think I would make it to the podium.”
Fenlator and Jones had the second-fastest start on the first run and were sixth the second time, while Meyers and Madison were third-fastest both times at the start.
“Little did I know coming out here would just like open up the floodgates to something just completely new for me,” Jones said. “I’m just thrilled to be out here, and Jazmine’s humble. She’s really dealing with a true rookie.
“I’m a veteran in my own sport, but the first run she just had to drive to make up for my lack of technique because I’m still working on it. I’m not on the start line confident in all of my angles yet, so she has to really drive amazing. My hat’s off to her. Literally, moments before she’s still showing me angles.”
Humphries and brakeman Chelsea Valois finished the two runs in 1 minute, 54.86 seconds, 0.47 seconds ahead of Fenlator and Jones.
“I just wanted to stay relaxed,” Fenlator said. “I knew that Lolo was hyped. I just tried to stay nice and smooth. Lolo and Tianna have great experience in high-pressure situations. They stayed really calm, so even though they’re rookies in the sport, you know on game day they’re going to be ready to go.”
“It’s pretty awesome, she did great her first race,” Meyers said about Madison. “They (Madison, Jones and Evans) are doing tremendous for this team. Just their spirit of competitiveness and willingness to fight for everything brings the whole level of the team up. It’s pretty awesome having them here.”
Meyers was instrumental in enticing the three track athletes — Evans is a former shot putter and with Greubel set a new start record here last month — to give bobsled a try. One race doesn’t make a season, but the potential seems boundless.
“The veterans on the team did an amazing job reaching out to us and kind of teaching us step by step,” said Madison, a gold medalist in the 400 relay in London last summer. “It was a totally different world for us. Elana definitely led the charge that helped bring us together as a team.”
Todd Hays, the women’s coach who has had his share of critics, simply stood to the side and soaked in the moment.
“I saw a lot of tendencies in the week with these girls of adding great velocity to the sleds,” said Hays, a former star on the men’s team who had a concussion and retired prior to the Vancouver Olympics. “It appeared to be a good match to team up the girls the way we did. Luckily for me, it worked out.”
Hays said the plan was to rotate the rookies among sleds during the World Cup season in an effort to keep everyone healthy. He said the teams that will compete at Sochi in 2014 will be named at the start of next season’s World Cup.
“I’m excited,” Hays said. “It’s great when you know someone can be very good and when they reach that potential, as a coach it feels great. I’m extremely proud. I’m passionate about the sport. I want to win. Any time we get two of our girls on the podium the first race, it’s certainly a big day for us.”