Germany’s Lange wins gold in bobsled

First to the finish. First to four gold medals.

Germany’s Andre Lange rarely loses – and never in the

Olympics.

Bobsled’s best driver won his fourth gold in four career races

inside the winter rings on Sunday, taking the two-man competition

to become the winningest pilot in Olympic history and increase the

medal total for a country that has mastered the sliding sports like

no other.

With cropped hair he recently dyed blond – yep, golden blond –

just for the Vancouver Games, Lange completed his four trips down

Whistler Sliding Center’s wicked-fast track in 3 minutes, 26.65

seconds, .22 ahead of Germany’s Thomas Florschuetz (3:26.87), who

won the silver. Russia’s Alexsandr Zubkov (3:27.51) won the

bronze.

Steve Holcomb of the United States finished sixth, but could

hardly care. He used the two-man as a tune-up for his best race,

the four-man, where he’ll try to end a gold-medal drought dating

back to 1948 for the U.S. in his sled dubbed “The Night

Train.”

Lange is the first driver to win four bobsled golds since the

event debuted in 1932 at Lake Placid.

The 36-year-old, who has hinted at retiring after he competes in

the four-man event here, came to Blackcomb Mountain tied with

Meinhard Nehmer, who won three gold medals (1976, 1980) for

Germany, when it was divided into East and West.

But just as he has sped past the competition, first in a

four-man sled at Salt Lake in 2002, then at Cesana, Italy, in both

the two- and four-man competitions four years ago, and now in

Canada’s back country, Lange has separated himself from everyone in

the record books.

Over two days, Lange made his way around this treacherous

16-curve track like he owned it. A course that confounded drivers,

crashed sleds and drew criticism from outsiders who feel it may be

unsafe after a luger died after being ejected from its final turn,

was humbled by Lange.

“He goes everywhere and looks like that,” said Canada-1 driver

Lyndon Rush. “Andre is the great one … they say the cream rises

to the top, Andre Lange is the cream.”

After four sleds, including Rush’s crashed on Saturday, there

wasn’t a single wreck during final two runs, perhaps a sign that

drivers are finally getting comfortable on this unforgiving

track.

Germany has been better than ever in these Olympics.

Now with nine medals from luge, skeleton and bobsled in these

games, Germany has matched its biggest Olympic medal haul since

beginning to compete under a unified flag again at the 1992 games.

It also won nine medals at Salt Lake City in 2002 (five in luge,

four in bobsled).

And this year’s total is a safe bet to rise – maybe by a lot –

with women’s and four-man bobsledding still to come.

Lange is a hero in his homeland – and beyond.

USA-2 driver Napier said growing up, he had two bobsled heroes.

One was his father, a longtime sledder and former head of the U.S.

Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. The other was Wolfgang Hoppe – a

six-time Olympic medalist considered to be Germany’s all-time best

driver.

That is, until Lange came along, and the first-time Olympian

Napier doesn’t mind saying he tries to emulate certain parts of the

German’s ways on the track.

“The man is a great driver,” Napier said. “He’s a great

champion. He’s very humble. He has great skills. He’s got a great

push with Kuske behind him, and he’s got great equipment. He’s a

true champion, and I aspire someday to be like him. … Those guys,

you watch them drive and they don’t make many mistakes. If they do,

it’s very rare.”

Lange’s nickname is “barchen,” little bear in German. During

these games, he joked with teammates that he felt like a hunted

animal among the snow-wrappd pine trees that ring the track. But no

one trapped Lange, who remains free to add to his golden

collection.

Lange’s sliding career began when he was 8, but not in the

bobsled’s front seat. Luge was first calling, and while he enjoyed

the thrill of dive-bombing down tracks on his back and steering

with his feet, he realized that international success would not be

in his future.

By 1993, he switched to bobsled. He’s been on the ride of his

life ever since.

Lange came into Sunday’s event with a .11 second lead over

Florschuetz. Before the third heat, Lange stepped up the start line

and slapped Kuske, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound strongman, on the back,

closed his visor and off they went in their electric-blue hot rod

on ice.

With the teams behind him hoping for a mistake, Lange equaled

the track record, his way of saying, ‘OK, catch me if you can.’

No one did. No ever does.

AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.