IGLS, Austria (AP) — Hunter Church remembers seeing U.S. bobsled great Steven Holcomb win the 2009 world championships, then went up to him afterward and shook his hand.
“I told him I wanted to be like him one day,” Church said.
For Church, “one day” became Sunday.
Church won his first World Cup bobsled medal, a bronze in a four-man race at historic Innsbruck. It was the first medal for the U.S. men in a bobsled race on foreign soil since Holcomb captured bronze on the same track in 2017.
Germany’s Francesco Friedrich won the race in 1 minute, 41.88 seconds. Countryman Johannes Lochner took second in 1:42.21. And the bronze went to Church and his team of Kristopher Horn, Joshua Williamson and James Reed, who crossed the line in 1:42.30.
Reed was also in Holcomb’s sled for the bronze at Innsbruck three years ago. Church’s bronze on Sunday was the first medal for the U.S. men’s bobsled program — regardless of location — since Codie Bascue drove to the silver in Park City, Utah, on Nov. 18, 2017.
Holcomb’s medal at Innsbruck in February 2017 was the last of his World Cup career. He died three months later.
The U.S. had won 18 World Cup bobsled medals since, all in women’s races.
Church had plenty of help. U.S. women’s pilot Kaillie Humphries took time during the week to show Church — who had never raced Innsbruck before — the best ways down the track. And between heats on Sunday, Church and U.S. driving coach Brian Shimer were reviewing video when more help came from an unlikely source.
Friedrich, the reigning World Cup overall champion and unquestionably the best driver in the world right now, approached Church to suggest a different way to navigate a particularly difficult corner. An hour or so later, they were standing together on the medal podium.
“We’ve formed a good relationship with the Germans and it says a lot about Friedrich for him to take the time to do that for Hunter,” U.S. bobsled coach Mike Kohn said.
Friedrich got his third four-man win of the season and extended his lead over Lochner in the World Cup standings to 38 points. Canada’s Justin Kripps is third in the points race, and Church is now sixth in those standings.
Before Sunday, Church’s best World Cup finish had been a trio of fifth-place showings — all at the team’s home track in Lake Placid, New York.
“I can’t even explain it,” Church said.