U.S. ready to apply brakes to slide

Bobsled drought may end in two-man race today

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 16, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

PARK CITY, Utah - When it comes to long-standing curses, the Boston Red Sox and the U.S. bobsled program are soul mates.

The Sox brought on their bad fortune by selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The bobsledders were done in by America's refusal to be a good host during the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif.

Olympic organizers balked at spending $750,000 to build a bobsled track for the Winter Games, thereby denying about 10 countries the opportunity to compete. Since 1960, the United States has made amends by building two permanent bobsled tracks in Lake Placid, N.Y., and in Park City.

Before the Squaw Valley incident, the U.S. team had won 13 of the 30 bobsled medals. After that, goose eggs.

The situation could change during the next week, as Americans vow to drive the men's and women's sleds right to the medals podium.

"We're ready to go," said five-time Olympian Brian Shimer, the driver of USA2. "They're coming to our back yard, and nobody's going to beat us here. The 46-year drought will definitely come to an end. I can see the rain cloud coming."

It won't be easy for Shimer or Todd Hays, the driver of USA1, who begin two days of competition today in the two-man bobsled.

After a phenomenal World Cup season in which he placed third, Hays dropped into a storm of controversy on Jan. 27 when his brakeman was disqualified from the Olympics for failing a drug test a month earlier. Pavle Jovanovic denied wrongdoing and appealed his nine-month suspension. His suspension was not only upheld, but it was also extended to two years.

Hays called the loss of his teammate "devastating," and said Jovanovic was blameless in taking a tainted dietary supplement.

Interestingly, another bobsledder who was suspended after a positive drug test will be back on the track today after his punishment was made retroactive.

Latvia's Sandis Prusis was greeted with cold stares from other bobsledders during training runs earlier this week. He was cleared to compete by the international bobsled federation, but the International Olympic Committee tried to ban his participation, an action that was overruled by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The doctor who tested him said Prusis' steroid levels were 1,000 times above the allowable amount and that the chances of accidental ingestion were very small.

"I don't care about Prusis' version," said Canadian Pierre Lueders, the 1998 gold medalist. "I don't like to look at him."

Jovanovic has been replaced by Garrett Hines, a 1998 Olympian who missed the bronze medal by .02 of a second as a member of the four-man team. Hines is trying to become the first African American to win a gold medal in the Winter Games.

But the international competition is stiff.

Germany's Christoph Langen, the 1998 bronze medalist, is favored to take a medal. The Swiss have two contenders: World Cup champion Martin Annen and Christian Reich. And Lueders is expected to make a strong showing.

Then there's Shimer, the "other" American, and his brakeman Darrin Steele. Shimer, 39, started as a brakeman on the four-man sled at the 1988 Calgary (Alberta) Games and was in the driver's seat four years ago when the team narrowly missed a medal.

But he's probably best known for the company he kept during the 1992 games. He finished seventh in Albertville, France, with running back Herschel Walker as brakeman.

The near-miss in Nagano and mounting injuries almost forced Shimer to retire. But the thought of competing at home overcame those disappointments.

"I would have retired if I had won a medal in Nagano," he said. "But with the games in our own back yard, I knew I was going to have an advantage."

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