(June 28, 2017) Sometimes it takes getting knocked down a time or two for an athlete to really refocus. For Nick Cunningham, the disappointment at the beginning of the 2016/2017 IBSF season led him to what he says could be his best season yet.
The beginning of last season was tough for Cunningham. The 2014 Olympian found himself on the outside looking in at the World Cup after an off-season surgery left him unable to train like he has in years past.
“I had surgery in May, and then I wasn’t able to start training at all until the beginning of August. And then in September we have push championships, and in October we have team trials,” Cunningham said. “In any other sport you would take the year off, but in our sport where your ranking is everything, if you lose that ranking you might as well retire. I was going to fight for my position.”
The battle for the USA Bobsled & Skeleton World Cup team in men’s bobsled was as tight as ever, with Cunningham missing the team by what he felt was one good run.
“One driving error is what got me and cost me a World Cup spot.”
He could have taken the news of running the North American Cup as a major downturn in his career but instead saw it as something much more.
“It was a blessing in disguise. It let me focus on rehabbing, and getting back to just enjoying sliding, having fun, and working with different guys.”
On top of that, Cunningham really enjoyed his time and the challenges of the tour.
“I was a little surprised as to how well I did. I was fairly confident that I would do relatively well, but you still have to go out there and compete. You have guys like [Edson] Bindilatti who are absolutely no slouch when it comes to driving, it was certainly a challenge.”
Cunningham finished the 2016/2017 IBSF season as the 2-man, 4-man and combined North American Cup champion, and earned a berth to the 2017 World Championships.
So what’s on tap for the summer for Nick Cunningham? For starters, he’s just about pain free and is training at the best he’s felt in half a decade.
“This is a year I’ve felt the most healthy I have in about five years. I’m training differently this year, and have gone away what I’ve done over the last five years. I feel stronger than I’ve ever been, and like to think I’m faster than I’ve been in a while.”
On top of that, another part of his training this summer will include some “cross-training” at Meridian Speedway, Idaho’s only NASCAR-sanctioned race track, making his debut on July 8th. Having linked up Patriot Motorsports Group, Cunningham has a ride in either the Late Model Stock Car or Modified class.
“I reached out in May and was able to go out and do some laps and see what it was. I’ve found that I can do just fine on the track by myself I do just fine, but put another 15 cars around me and we’ll see how it goes!”
The similarities between bobsledding and race car driving are close, but not quite the same.
“The difference for me will be actually having traction. It’s going to be different to turn the wheel and trust that the car is going to go where I intend it to. In bobsled, it’s pressures and not being able to just turn. That said, risk assessment and making decisions on the fly are almost exactly the same.”
For the coming year, Cunningham has one goal: Get himself (and his team) on a podium in PyeongChang during the 2018 Olympic Games. It’s a change for Cunningham to be a senior member of the team after four years ago being one of the younger athletes.
“Standing on the line during the Olympic Games and even the World Championships are two entirely different things, and there’s nothing like it. Knowing that, and knowing how to control a team at the Olympics, I feel like I have an ace in the hole as far as experience goes.”
With a tough year behind him, Cunningham looks forward to the challenges ahead.
“Whoever’s on my team, I’m going to get them on an Olympic podium. That’s my only goal: To get whoever is on my team an Olympic medal.”