US bobsled bringing high hopes to Sochi Olympics
When USA-1 crossed the finish line and claimed four-man gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the American bobsled program looked as good as ever.
It might be better now.
Steven Holcomb is still in the front seat of perhaps two gold-medal contenders that will represent the U.S. at the Sochi Games. But he's hardly the only hope the Americans have on the Olympic stage. Co-starring this time is a women's team that has as good a chance at winning gold, along with some new two-man sleds built by BMW that are likely the fastest in the sport.
''We've had great results this year, so I'm pretty happy with the way it's performing,'' Holcomb said. ''We're working hard to make sure that these sleds go as fast as they possibly can. We've been testing things left and right, week to week ... it's all part of the process, figuring out what's the fastest and how to get faster.''
Holcomb and his team - Steve Langton, Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt - will be among the favorites for gold in the four-man race, the last of the Olympics.
By then, the Americans might already have a medal haul going.
Women's bobsled might generate as much buzz for the Americans as anything else on the track in Sochi, and it's not just because of the star power generated by two-time Summer Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones and Olympic gold-medalist sprinter Lauryn Williams being selected to the squad as push athletes.
Drivers Jamie Greubel and Elana Meyers have been medal contenders on the World Cup circuit in just about every stop this season, and Meyers - a 2010 Olympic bronze medalist as a push athlete - will likely have top pusher in Aja Evans in her sled.
Jones and Williams have proved their mettle with World Cup medals, and in Williams' case, that's doubly impressive considering she's been a bobsledder for less than six months.
''All these girls earned the right to be Olympians,'' Meyers said.
Williams and Jones will become the ninth and 10th Americans to compete in both the summer and winter Olympics. Williams has a chance to be only the second to win gold in both.
And Holcomb should have a shot in two-man as well, given the technological advancement of the sleds BMW built for the Americans. The U.S. hasn't won two-man gold since 1936 and hasn't medaled in that race since 1952.
Of course, Holcomb's no stranger to streak-busting. The U.S. didn't have a four-man bobsled gold in 62 years before he won in Vancouver.
Here's five things to watch in Olympic bobsledding:
UPHILL CLIMB: The Sochi track is unusual because of the three uphill portions. Obviously, that's a deterrent to speed, but more importantly it also means that any mistakes drivers make going into those climbs could prove devastating to medal chances. A little bit of lost speed could turn into a big problem in a hurry.
ALL NATIONS: Any number of nations could medal in bobsledding this year, showing that there might be more elite-level sliders than ever. The Americans, Germans, Canadians, Latvians, Russians and Swiss are among those firmly in medal chases, and those nations would be downright disappointed if they didn't get to make at least one trip to the podium.
KIRIASIS FINALE?: At 39, this will likely be the final Olympics for German star Sandra Kiriasis, still widely considered the top women's pilot of all-time. She lacks the speed at the start that her younger, more athletic challengers have, but she more than makes up for it in driving skill. Plus, she's experienced every sort of pressure situation on the track, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see her in the hunt.
THEY'RE BACK: For the first time since 2002, Jamaica is sending a bobsled to the Olympics. Pilot Winston Watts will be at the controls of the two-man sled, the Jamaicans' only entry in Sochi. It's the fourth Olympics for Watts (who previously went by Watt), and he'll turn 47 a day after the opening ceremony.
O ... RUSSIA?: Pierre Lueders is at home for his second straight Olympics. He raced for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Games, his fifth straight time representing his country. This year, he's coaching the Russians. It's not uncommon for people from one country to coach another nation's team, but Lueders was the face of Canadian bobsledding for about two decades.