Americans win bobsled gold
With one more perfect run down sliding's most difficult track, Steven Holcomb drove USA-1 to the Olympic gold medal in four-man bobsledding on Saturday, ending a 62-year drought for the Americans in the event.
It was the first gold medal for the U.S. in sliding's signature race since Francis Tyler won one for the Americans at St. Moritz in 1948.
Holcomb's four-run time was 3 minutes, 24.46 seconds, with Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz pushing for him again - just as they did in winning the world championship a year ago.
``This is bigger,'' U.S. coach Brian Shimer said.
There might not be any comparison whatsoever.
German Andre Lange, who failed to win a gold medal for the first time in five Olympic events, had a nearly perfect final run to win the silver in what he says will be his final race. Lange finished 0.38 seconds behind Holcomb and his team.
Lyndon Rush drove Canada-1 to the bronze.
Holcomb and his sledmates crossed the finish line one more time and threw their arms in the air before wrapping each other in American flags. Holcomb hoisted his helmet high as family and friends craned for photographs, and a party that the U.S. program had been waiting 62 years for was finally getting started.
``It's huge,'' said USA-3 driver Mike Kohn, who finished 13th. ``This is a great moment. It's hopefully going to change the program and bring some publicity and some funding to this sport, just like it did in '02 when we won silver and bronze.''
Kohn was a push athlete for Brian Shimer's sled at those 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, when Todd Hays drove to silver and Shimer got the Americans a bronze.
The U.S. had never been closer to being kings of the bobsled mountain - until now.
A slew of U.S. teammates rushed to Holcomb's sled when it was over, and one of the first men to offer congratulations was Geoff Bodine, the 1986 Daytona 500 champion who was the driving force behind the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project - which funded and built the sleds Americans raced in at the Vancouver Games.
``It's a great thing for the U.S.,'' Canada-2 driver Pierre Lueders said. ``They've been competitive in bobsled for so long, but have been shut out quite a few times. He definitely is a talent, and I can't wait to see how he's going to do four years from now.''
Holcomb was walking around trackside about an hour before the final heat, shaking his finger, mouthing the words ``One more.'' With a lead of 0.45 seconds over Rush, all Holcomb needed to do was get his sled down the mountain without a huge mishap, knowing his lead was such that no one could catch him.
All he had to do was not wreck before Curve 13, this diabolical track's most diabolical turn, the one Holcomb himself dubbed ``50-50'' after seeing about one out of every two sleds that tried to navigate it crash there last year.
Holcomb and his sledmates grabbed each other by the hands one last time, took one last look down the hill and prepared to push the ``Night Train'' - that menacing, flat-black, super-high-tech sled that is coveted by almost every bobsledder in the world - into Olympic immortality.
A mere 51.52 seconds later, it was over.
With that came a deafening roar, even louder than the silence that permeated the Whistler Sliding Center before these games began.
It's barely been two weeks since Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili crashed during a luge training run and died just hours before the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Games, and the Olympic track has been a lightning rod of criticism since. There were dozens of crashes on the super-fast surface, six of them during Friday's four-man heats alone, one bad enough to knock up-and-coming American John Napier - some say he'll be better than Holcomb - out of the Olympics with a sore neck.
It's easily the toughest track in the world.
Holcomb somehow made it look toothless.
It wasn't long ago that Holcomb had 20-500 vision - ``profound visual impairment'' - that could have ended his bobsledding career before people helped him scrape up $15,000 to have contact lenses embedded behind his iris to correct a degenerative condition. It's not a coincidence that he's vaulted atop the bobsled world since.
He's bobsled's best now.
Holcomb was 8 when he sat before the television and saw a big, red Canadian bobsled speeding down a track somewhere in the world. Already hooked on speed from being an alpine skier, Holcomb was quickly fascinated with sledding - but it took about a decade before the seed planted that day finally grew roots.
Holcomb was about 18 when he got word that a bobsled tryout meeting was taking place at a bar in his native Park City, Utah. He and Tristan Gale tried to get in, unsuccessfully because neither was old enough to legally get past the door.
Fortunately for the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, neither was deterred by Utah's liquor laws.
Gale won skeleton gold at Park City in 2002.
And eight years later, Holcomb joins her as an Olympic champion.
The ``Night Train'' guys were overwhelmed a few weeks ago, when they were surprised with shimmering championship rings for winning the four-man world title.
A new piece of jewelry awaits, gold medals that were 62 years in the making.
It was 1948 when Tyler, Patrick Martin, Edward Rimkus and William D'Amico went to St. Moritz and won the four-man bobsled gold for the United States, the second time in three Winter Olympics that Americans won sliding's marquee event.
A 50-year gap between world four-man titles for the U.S. ended last year in Lake Placid. And now, the Olympic skein is finally over.
``When they raise the flag and play The Star-Spangled Banner for your son,'' said Steve Holcomb, the bobsledder's father, his voice choking at the thought, ``well, that's pretty cool.''
Holcomb was sending out e-mails earlier this season with this phrase attached at the bottom: ``Sent via the 2009 Bobsled World Champion's Blackberry.''
Time to update that.