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Kripps pilots first 4-man gold
February 18, 2019

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LAKE PLACID - Canada's Justin Kripps drove to a four-man bobsled World Cup gold medal in dramatic fashion Saturday, and in the same race, an athlete who grew up in the North Country also came through with a memorable performance on his home track.

In a race that saw first-run leader Rudy Rinaldi of Monaco crash on the last run of the day to ruin his chances of victory, Kripps and his crew climbed from fourth place to the top of the podium for his first World Cup career victory as a four-man pilot. Kripps joined push athletes Ryan Sommer, Cameron Stones and Benjamin Coakwell to win with a two-heat combined time of 1 minute, 49.54 seconds.

Kripps drove to the fourth-fastest time in the first heat with a finish of 54.79 seconds, and the quickest time down Mount Van Hoevenberg's track in the second run, clocking a 54.75 result, to win by a mere seven-hundredths of a second. Oskars Kibermanis of Latvia drove to the silver in 1:49.61, and Russian pilot and his crew took bronze with a 1:49.67 combined time.

Rinaldi, Monaco's 25-year-old driver, clung to a lead of a tenth second with a first-heat time of 54.67, but flipped his sled on the upper portion of the track on his next run. The sled popped back on its runners near the bottom of the run, which allowed Rinaldi and his crew to finish the race in 19th place 2:31 seconds behind Canada's winning sled. A track worker, who reportedly didn't realize the sled returned to its runners, was nearly taken out by Rinaldi after the last turn on the track but averted disaster by a split second leaping to safety. A video of the near tragedy was posted on the internet.

"That was crazy," Kripps said describing Rinaldi's final run. "I'm good buddies with Rudy, and you don't want to see him crash like that. I was pretty excited for him leading the race. In the back of my mind, I was kind of cheering for him a little bit but I'm a racer by nature. I wanted to move up as much as possible and happy to get the gold, and I know there are big things in the future for Rudy.

"I love racing Lake Placid. It's almost a love-hate thing," Kripps added. "Sometimes I get to the bottom and I'm cursing a little bit because it's easy to make make mistakes here, but this is actually where I learned to drive. This is where I did my first driving school, so I have that special relationship with the track, and when you nail it, it feels pretty awesome. It's good to have difficult tracks on tour."

Rinaldi, whose left cheek was visibly reddened by the crash, appeared heartbroken after the race as he rode up the finish ramp with both hands covering his visor.

Germans took the next two positions in the race, with Francesco Friedrich sliding into fourth in 1:49.70, and Nico Walther placing fifth with a 1:49.93 total.

For the second day in a row, Codie Bascue of the United States found himself in position to be in the medals after turning in a solid first run. And after dropping from second place to in Friday's first two-man heat to a final placing of ninth, the Whitehall native struggled again in Saturday's four-man. Bascue and his crew of Joshua Williamson, James Reed and Dakota Lynch put down the fifth-fastest opening run of 55.88 in the race and were less .19 behind Rinaldi's leading time heading into the next heat. But just like in the two-man, Bascue struggled on his second trip down the track to finish 11th in the 19-sled field with a 1:50.37 total.

The fasted time among the three American drivers in the field belonged to Hunter Church, a native of Cadyville appearing in World Cup action on his home track for the first time. Joining push athletes Kyler Allison, Christopher Kinney and Kyle Wilcox, Church piloted his sled to an impressive eighth-place finish with a 1:50.24 total. Church and his crew stood in 12th place after clocking a opening run of 55.15, and followed with the eighth-fastest time in the second run, a 55.09.

With just one more World Cup event on the slate coming up this weekend in Calgary, Canada, Church is attempting to earn a berth in four-man bobsled at the World Championships being held at the end of the month in Whistler, and Saturday's performance has the 22-year-old well on his way to realizing that goal.

Church did benefit from some luck on the first heat when he made it safely down the track after being hampered when the visor on his helmet flipped up early into his run.

"I'm incredibly happy with how things turned out. The First heat was pretty crazy," Church said. "My visor popped up in corner four so I drove almost half the track blind. I quickly pulled my visor back down going into 17. We weren't in the position we wanted to be in after the first heat. We didn't push as well. The boys stepped up the second heat, pushed a little quicker, and I drove like this was my home track, and we managed to crack a top-10 finish.

"The second run was great," Church continued. "We were .07 off of Nico Walther, who was the German medalist from Pyeongchang. Any time you're close to a German like that you have to be pretty ecstatic. It was a good momentum builder because now we're going to Calgary and we know what we are capable of, and I'm comfortable on that track. We're going to have a lot of fun."

Church said prior to Saturday's competition, he recalled the history he's experienced at Mount Van Hoevenberg dating back to his first run on the track as a 12-year-old.

"It was about seven years ago today I took gold in my last Empire State Games. I was recollecting at the top today," Church said. "I was thinking about my first trips down this track, I was thinking about the Empire State Games, I was thinking about my first crash. It was like this is an incredible opportunity and I'm blessed to be up here.

"My first trip I was12. My first crash I was 15 years old. My first international race, I think I was 19," Church added. "It was just an incredible day, and incredible week. I'm thrilled just looking at where we started and where we are now, and the momentum that we're going to build."

Geoffrey Gadbois piloted the third U.S. sled in the race. Gadbois, of Milton, Vermont, joined push athletes Blaine McConnell, Adrian Adams and Kristopher Horn to finish 12th with a 1:50.45 total, which was a little less than a second behind Kripps' winning result.

The four-man bobsled race concluded this year's World Cup racing in Lake Placid. The men's skeleton competition kicked off the action at the track Saturday.

The top three positions belonged to a trio who have combined to capture five Olympic medals. Russia's Alexander Tretiakov, who owns one Olympic gold and a bronze medal, put down the fastest times in both heats to win Saturday, clocking a first-place 1:47.19 total. Two-time Olympic silver medalist Martins Dukurs of Latvia took second in 1:47.33, and Korea's Sungbin Yun, the defending Olympic gold medalist from last February's Pyeongchang Winter Games, placed third with a 1:47.44 combined time.

Three young racers placed in the top-10 for the U.S. Greg West led the trio, placing eighth in 1:48.44, Kyle Brown finished ninth in 1:48.50, and Austin Florian rounded out the top-10 in 1:48.52.

The IBSF World Cup tour wraps up the season this week in Calgary, Canada on the 1988 Olympic track that could be seeing its final races before being shutdown.

Although signs point to that happening, Kripps said he hopes that won't be the case.

"Maybe it will close, hopefully not," Kripps said. "I don't have all the details yet, but obviously, it would be a huge shame to lose the Calgary track. It's a hub worldwide for bobsledders and all sliding athletes. Everybody comes and a lot of people end up moving to Calgary and living there. Paying taxes, buying homes, so I hope collectively between WinSport, who owns the track, and the government, we'll be able make something happen and keep it open."

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