US men's 4-man bobsled edges closer to rare Olympic medal

Steve Holcomb's USA-1 crew has a large lead going into Saturday, en route to what they hope will be the first US men's gold in 4-man bobsled in 62 years.

Steven Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curtis Tomasevicz take a curve during the four-man bobsled competition at the Whistler Sliding Center during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games.

America got off to a thrilling start in the men’s four-man bobsled competition Friday, with Steve Holcomb’s USA-1 crew enjoying a huge lead going into tomorrow. With two of four runs behind them in a sport that can be won or lost by hundredths of a second, Holcomb is a whopping 0.4 seconds ahead of the field – including German veteran Andre Lange.

"[Holcomb] is laying a 'whupping' on everyone right now,” said Lyndon Rush, who piloted Canada’s top sled into second position after Lange lost time in a near crash but managed to recover. "You never know what you're going to get with most guys, but with those two, you always know what you're going to get. They're so good, especially in the four-man, they're such studs."

Holcomb, at a substantial disadvantage to his Canadian counterparts, who have had many more runs to figure out the fast and tricky track, today demonstrated the uncanny driving skill and relentless perseverance that have made him the most successful US pilot in 50 years. If he keeps up the unbeatable times he laid down today, he and his crew could become the first American gold medalists in the event since 1948.

“He’s just got a talent that very few people in the world have,” says his long-time brakeman, Curt Tomasevicz. “He has a great feel for how to drive.”

Where does he get that? Tomasevicz shrugs. “He plays a lot of video games,” he offers.

Holcomb's secret

He also scrutinizes the track mercilessly. Earlier this week, he noticed that Alexsandr Zubkov of Russia was going clean through 11-12-13 every time, while everyone else was getting bounced around. He had to know why.

So he studied videotapes of Zubkov and others until he figured it out.

What’s the secret?

“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” he said, laughing. In the meantime, there’s more video to watch.

“Tonight I’m going to go back and watch some tape, figure out what my mistakes were and how to fix them,” he said. “I made it through [11-12-13] clean, but I could still make some improvements.”

USA-2 crashes out, but still crosses finish line

While Holcomb’s Night Train sled dominated Whistler’s notoriously fast track today, his teammates in the USA-2 sled crashed out of medal contention in that tricky section that nearly took Lange down as well – and caused several other crashes.

“When you're going at 95 miles per hour, if you make a mistake, there's no time to catch up," said pilot John Napier, whose crew got dragged around the rest of the track as the sled careened across the finish line upside down. But no one was seriously injured, he said. "It's more my ego that is bruised. This is the biggest race of my life and I crashed."

While they'll still be able to compete tomorrow, a medal is out of the question. In a sport where guys move from sled to sled as their results go up and down, it was an unfortunate occurrence that touched others on the team as well.

"It's a bummer, I pushed for John [in the past], I just happened to not be on his sled [here,]” said Jamie Moriarty. “It's heartbreaking to see someone in medal contention go over for the USA."

Belly flop at the start for USA-3

Moriarty had his own adventure in USA-3, when he slipped at the start just as he was jumping into the sled and did a belly flop across the top – blocking his teammates from getting in. He slipped back down to the ice before springing back up and getting craned into position by the strong arm of teammate Bill Schuffenhauer.

How many times does that happen?

"Maybe one out of 1,000 times,” said Mike Kohn, the driver. “Jamie has never done that in his life, and he's been bobsledding four or five years."

Kohn estimated that they lost only a hundredth of a second at the crucial start, but said that the lost potential in acceleration may have added up to a significant deficit. They head into Saturday’s runs in 12th position.

For now, it’s time to eat a hearty meal, and go play Rock Band – or, in the case of perfectionist Steve Holcomb, review some video tapes.

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