U.S. either too hot or cold, but far from gold LILLEHAMMER 94

February 28, 1994|By Philadelphia Inquirer

HUNDERFOSSEN, Norway -- The U.S. bobsled team's Olympic moment concluded yesterday when USA II, the sled driven by Brian Shimer, was disqualified for having its runners heated above legal limits, and USA I, driven by Randy Will, finished behind the Jamaicans.

"Life goes on," Shimer said. "There are a hundred million Chinese people that don't care, and the sun is still going to rise in the East."

By those calculations, there are about 800 million Chinese who care very much, so this explanation of yesterday's inglorious outing is for them.

It is standard bobsled procedure to heat the sled runners before the race. By starting time, however, they can be no more than four degrees Celsius warmer than an unheated test runner used by the judges. The process is not done by the drivers, but by the team's support personnel. By all accounts, the U.S. team was pushing the limits on Shimer's sled, trying to get the runners as warm as possible.

"It's a risk. It's like Mitch Williams trying to put a fastball by Joe Carter in the last game of the World Series," said David Kurtz, who is the U.S. team leader for bobsled.

"There's no question that warm runners go faster on ice. I know our engineers thought the temperatures were within the range. We definitelytook some risk and pressed the limits as far as we could go to make sure that he had the full opportunity to do his best here at the Games."

That was the idea. Unfortunately, Shimer, who came into yesterday's final two runs in 11th place, got no opportunity to better that standing. He came to the starting line with his two strong side pushers and his fast brakeman. What he didn't have was a bobsled.

"I came to the line, and the sled wasn't there. I had no clue any of this was taking place," Shimer said. "This is the first time personally in nine years of racing that I've been disqualified from a race for hot runners. You want to keep it on the warm side, and that's why you have a temperature gauge. You would never take a sled to the line with hot runners. You take the temperature and if you're not legal, you just put snow or ice on them to cool them down."

Shimer stopped short of saying the guys in charge of the runners must be a few degrees below Celsius in the thought department. Their explanation was that the temperature gauge being used by the judges registered a different result than their own. So, add thermometers to the long list of American equipment that hasn't worked here.

Not getting to slide on the final day of the Olympic four-man competition because the runners were too hot is like being kicked out of the seventh game of the NBA Finals because your jersey isn't tucked into your shorts.

It just doesn't happen.

"I can't think of anything worse," said Matt Roy, the executive director of the U.S. Bobsled Federation.

The USA I sled driven by Will didn't have any problems with the rTC temperature of its runners, although they are still the wrong runners for serious competition here. Those who have been following the saga know the ice is too cold for Will's runners. Unfortunately, the Norwegian ice track has remained stubbornly cold throughout the competition.

This situation, combined with slow push times yesterday, dropped Will from 10th place to 15th in the final standing, which is, indeed, one spot behind the Jamaicans.

Will finished the four runs with a total time of 3 minutes, 29.97 seconds, 2.19 seconds behind gold medalist Harald Czudaj of ** Germany and his team. Gustav Weder of Switzerland, who won the two-man competition here, drove the silver medal sled, and Wolfgang Hoppe of Germany took the bronze. Only .06 seconds separated the first and second place sleds.

"I am over the moon," Czudaj said. "I didn't think we'd take the gold in a million years."

That thought is shared by the Americans who, regrettably, might be right.

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