For Nick Cunningham and Jamie Greubel, setting the second-best times in the opening round of this season's U.S. bobsled team selection races was cause for some congratulations.
Both moved closer toward getting to drive at the upcoming Sochi Olympics.
Olympic medalists Steven Holcomb and Elana Meyers easily posted the best times Saturday at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, N.Y., their showings almost expected and a bit irrelevant since both have spots onto the World Cup team already secured based on past performances.
The story of these selection races will be the order in which other drivers finish as they vie for a limited number of spots on this season's World Cup team, a critical step toward qualifying for Sochi.
And for Cunningham and Greubel, the start of their Olympic seasons couldn't have gone much better.
"It's definitely a step in the right direction," Greubel said. "I still have Park City to conquer, but I definitely gained some confidence today toward Sochi with this race."
The men's trials continue in Park City, Utah on Oct. 20, with the women's trials resuming Oct. 25.
Meyers — a bronze medalist as a brakeman at the 2010 Vancouver Games before moving into her current role as a pilot — and Aja Evans topped the women's race with a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 57.21 seconds, posting the two fastest starts in the field and almost cruising from there.
After that, no one was better than Greubel, who teamed with brakeman Katie Eberling to finish in 1:57.92.
Jazmine Fenlator and Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones (1:58.60) had the third-best time of the day. Bree Schaaf and Lauryn Williams (1:59.38) were next in what served as the first real bobsled race for Williams, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the 100-meter dash and part of the 4x100-meter relay team that won gold at last year's London Games.
Greubel, Fenlator and Schaaf are basically competing for two available pilot spots on the women's World Cup team.
"The ice felt amazing," Greubel said. "Really good speed today. It definitely feels like the beginning of the season now."
Holcomb drove USA-1 to a four-man gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and his times with brakeman Steve Langton on Saturday suggested that they're more than a little ready for another Olympic run. They had the two fastest pushes in the field and finished their two runs in 1:54.28, nearly a full second — a huge margin in sliding — ahead of Cunningham and Dallas Robinson (1:55.23).
Still, Cunningham had no complaints.
"This is kind of big for us," Cunningham said. "We're not peaking for team trials. We're peaking for the start of the World Cup season and this is a stepping stone to get there. ... We're pretty happy with where we are."
Langton is a world push champion, and part of a deep corps of elite pushers in the U.S. men's bobsled stable, a list that right now also includes Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt, both of whom are expected to open the World Cup season in the other spots with Holcomb and Langton in the USA-1 four-man sled.
Robinson isn't too far removed from the elite level, and Cunningham raved about what his brakeman did Saturday.
"He just has a champion's mentality," Cunningham said. "He wants to win. He's just looking for the opportunity. He's a racer. He's a competitor. He's an athlete. I look in his eyes and see that fire, that drive and how much he wants it, and that just makes me push harder."
Racing continues in Lake Placid on Sunday with the start of USA Luge's national championships.