Medals slip away | ParkRecord.com

Medals slip away

David Hampshire, of The Record staff

"This sport’s all about repetition," Park City’s Steven Holcomb observed in the finish area after the four-man bobsled race at the Utah Olympic Park (UOP) Saturday.

Unfortunately, the U.S. contingent couldn’t repeat its first-run performance when it had three of the five fastest sleds stumbling in the second run to finish the first World Cup race of the season with the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-fastest times.

Winning the gold medal, in a field of 26 teams from 16 nations, was the Canadian team piloted by Lyndon Rush, which had a two-run combined time of 1 minute, 36.43 seconds. Latvian pilot Janis Minins guided his team to the silver medal while third went to the Russian team led by Dmitry Abramovitch.

In the first run, Todd Hays (Del Rio, Texas) led the field from start to finish with a time of 48.22 seconds. His push crew of Steve Langton (Melrose, Mass.), Chris Fogt (Alpine, Utah) and Chuck Berkeley (Clayton, Calif.) helped team USA II claim the fastest start time of the competition, bursting off the blocks for an impressive push time of 4.81 seconds.

However, Hays injured his left hamstring while loading into the sled in the second heat. With a slower second-run start time, the team slid across the finish line in 48.36 seconds for a combined time of 1:36.58, dropping Hays’ team into sixth position.

The Night Train crew driven by Holcomb was one of the pre-race favorites, having won both of the four-man World Cup races held at the UOP last season. But several of the early sleds in the first run including Holcomb’s — were buffeted by a bitter north wind that swirled through the park Saturday evening.

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"It’s just unfortunate," Holcomb said. "If the race had been delayed 15 minutes or something, it would have been a whole different day. But that’s the way it works."

In spite of the wind, Holcomb’s crew still managed to finish the first run in third place. But Holcomb’s USA I sled also ran into trouble in the second run.

"I stumbled getting into the sled," Holcomb said after the race. "It was my fault. It was a stupid mistake." The slip caused the sled to graze the wall entering the first turn, losing precious momentum.

Holcomb’s sled, propelled by Curt Tomasevicz (Shelby, Neb.), Justin Olsen (San Antonio, Texas) and Steve Mesler (Buffalo, N.Y.) slipped to seventh place overall with a combined time of 1:36.62.

John Napier (Lake Placid, N.Y.) teamed with Jamie Moriarty (Winnetka, Ill.), Bill Schuffenhauer (Ogden, Utah) and Brock Kreitzburg (Akron, Ohio) to finish just 0.12 seconds behind Holcomb in eighth place.

As in World Cup slalom and giant slalom ski races, World Cup bobsled races are arranged so that the slowest qualifier from the first run is the first to start the second run. That means the outcome is in doubt until the final sled has finished the race.

The Canadian team led by Lyndon Rush had only the sixth-fastest time in the first heat, meaning that Rush and his teammates had to stand in the finish area after the second run, hoping their time would hold up, while the five remaining sleds completed the course.

The Canadians watched with a combination of astonishment and glee as each of the top five sleds from the first run including the three Americans’ faltered.

In spite of USA I’s disappointing result, Holcomb is optimistic about his team’s chances this season, which includes the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

"We’re still doing well," he said. "We’re still in the top 10, even with our mistakes. So, if we can just kind of clean that stuff up, we’ll be where we want to be."

The teams are now in Lake Placid, N.Y., preparing for the second World Cup event of the 2009-2010 season.

Results:

1. Rush, Le Bihan, Humphries and Brown (CAN) 1:36.43 (48.35, 48.08); 2. Minins, Dreiskens, Melbardis and Dambis (LAT) 1:36.45 (48.30, 48.15); 3. Abramovitch, Egorov, Stepushkin and Prudnikov (RUS) 1:36.45 (48.40, 48.05); 6. Hays, Berkeley, Langton and Fogt (USA) 1:36.58 (48.22, 48.36); 7. Holcomb, Olsen, Mesler and Tomasevicz (USA) 1:36.62 (48.29, 48.33); 8. Napier, Moriarty, Burns and Kreitzburg (USA) 1:36.74.

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