46 years and still waiting for U.S.

Disjointed two-man team misses bobsledding medal

German, Swiss victorious

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 18, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

PARK CITY, Utah - Like the gray skies overhead, the U.S. bobsled team threatened but did not produce, and so the 46-year Olympic drought without a medal continues.

Todd Hays, touted as the man to end the streak, could not overcome the loss of his brakeman to a drug suspension and his own case of nerves. He and replacement brakeman Garrett Hines finished fourth yesterday with a time of 3 minutes, 10.63 seconds, behind Germany 1 and the two Swiss sleds.

Given the tough competition, Hays could ill afford mistakes, but he made them Saturday during the first of two days of racing. He admitted his composure slipped in the first run and a poor start - where the brakeman is the critical component - in the second run left them .36 of a second out of first place with little hope for a medal.

But perhaps the biggest mistake happened in late December, when Hays' original brakeman, Pavle Jovanovic, tested positive for a banned steroid. Jovanovic claimed he took a tainted dietary supplement, but he was suspended for two years.

Hines, a veteran Olympian who missed a bronze medal in 1998 by .02 of a second, replaced Jovanovic in January. The results of the patchwork team were uneven.

Still, teammate Brian Shimer, a five-time Olympian and driver of USA2, predicted victory as recently as Feb. 9: "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."

What he no doubt saw was the lightning of three-time Olympic medalist Christoph Langen, who was in second place after Saturday's runs, just .01 of second behind the driver of Swiss 1, Christian Reich.

Langen, who switches brakemen as frequently as weather forecasts change, teamed with Markus Zimmerman, the silver medalist at the 1992 games. The veteran combination clicked, posting a 3:10.20 finish.

Reich and brakeman Steve Anderhub finished .42 of a second back for the silver medal. The Swiss 2 team of Martin Annen and Beat Hefti took the bronze with a time of 3:10.62.

Sandis Prusis of Latvia, whose drug suspension was retroactive to make him eligible for the Winter Games, was shunned by many of the other drivers and finished 11th.

An overjoyed Langen noted that the gold in the two-man event was the only honor he had missed in his career. He praised Reich, saying he wished they could have tied for first.

"We get along great," he said. "I would have been just as happy if I had ended up in second place. We are such good competitors."

Reich said he was deeply touched, adding, "I did not lose the gold medal, I won the silver medal."

The four-man competition begins Friday, and Hays said that while the loss "is going to sting for a while ... hopefully we can come back and make up those few hundredths that we lost."

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