CANOE NAGANO '98 ISP DIRECTORY
Thursday, February 19, 1998
The start's the key for U.S. bobsledders
NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- With a command from side pusher Garrett Hines, America's bobsledders will be off and flying in their attempt to break a 42-year Olympic medal drought.
Hines, fellow side pusher Chip Minton and brakeman Randy Jones provide the muscle, pushing the jet-black USA 1 -- with blue flames painted on the nose -- at a dead sprint down the 50-meter straightaway. Brian Shimer jumps in first, and the drive down the 15-turn Spiral is in his hands, starting with a 180-degree curve.
The United States was a bobsled power in the early Olympics, but hasn't medaled since taking the four-man bronze in 1956. It's been 50 years since Francis Tyler won the USA's last gold medal in the four-man at St. Moritz.
Shimer, of Naples, Fla., and USA 2 driver Jim Herberich, of Winchester, Mass., had mediocre performances in the two-man last weekend. Their last chance at these games is the four-man, starting Friday.
Shimer feels good about his Bo-Dyn sled, his crew and his driving. "If I can be consistent, I think we have a great shot," he said.
Shimer thought the same thing four years ago, but became the first bobsled driver in Olympic history to be disqualified because someone let his runners get too warm. Warm runners lead to faster times.
This time, the crewmen on USA I have one of the best starts in the world. They showed it by posting the fastest times on the first day of training.
And they're inspired by the gold medal won by the U.S. women's hockey team.
"You can now see it in everybody's eyes," said Minton, a 245-pounder from Macon, Ga. "Those girls wanted that medal and went out and won it. That's the same with us. After watching that, you can't help but come out here on fire and that just helped add to it."
The start is crucial, because a lead of one-tenth of a second at the start can translate into an edge of three-tenths at the finish.
It's also one of the more entertaining parts of the bobsled race. There's grunting and yelling and commands of every sort and in every language. The rituals are as varied as the paint jobs on the fiberglass-and-steel sleds.
After setting their sled's runners into the grooves carved into the starting straightaway, the U.S. sledders put their hands together, like a football team before breaking out of the huddle.
They squat in position and, on the command from Hines, they launch the sled down the track. The side pushers jump in a few seconds after Shimer, and the brakeman is last. Everyone behind Shimer crouches to reduce air resistance.
The less experienced the team, the more interesting the start. As Puerto Rico's sled headed down the track during training, someone yelled, "Get on!" to a teammate. Someone on the Virgin Islands' sled, painted to resemble an iguana, shouted: "One! Two! Come on, pick it up!"
The U.S. crews skipped today's final training runs in order to rest. Shimer has been bothered by a pulled hamstring since early November and had acupuncture treatments Tuesday night.
Shimer would like to forget his past Olympic failures.
"One thing I forgot to have the last two Olympics was fun," Shimer said. "So I'm going to try to come out here and have fun the next couple of days."
Others in the medal hunt are Germans Harald Czudaj, the defending gold medalist, and Christoph Langen, who won bronze in the two-man; Austria's Hubert Schoesser; Switzerland's Christian Reich; and the two drivers who tied for the two-man gold, Canada's Pierre Lueders and Italy's Guenther Huber.
The Jamaicans are back, and this likely will be the last Olympics for Prince Albert of Monaco.