Sunday, April 20, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Wide-open race expected in 2-man bobsled

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Alexander Zubkov of Russia knows that he’s capable of driving his way to the Olympic two-man bobsledding gold medal at the Sochi Games.

Then again, he might finish something like sixth.

Such is the reality entering the first two runs of the competition on Sunday night at the Sanki Sliding Center. With nine different drivers having made at least one trip to the World Cup medals podium in two-man racing this winter, and three others recording at least one top-five finish on the circuit, it would seem that there is no overwhelming favorite.

In other words, may the best men win.

“It will be a tough race,” Zubkov said. “The top six will fight until the last moment. This race will judge us all.”

That’s not really hyperbole. This race has all the potential to be a classic.

Steven Holcomb of Park City, Utah, won the World Cup title this season and five of the eight races on the circuit, four of those wins coming on North American tracks. Beat Hefti of Switzerland closed training with a flourish. Francesco Friedrich of Germany has an all-or-nothing reputation; if he gets hot in the first or second run, he could be a factor until the end.

Hefti will race with Alex Baumann in his sled, making that choice because Thomas Lamparter has been dealing with an injury.

Zubkov will be doubly having a home-ice advantage. Not only will he be racing before his nation’s fans — and the Russians have been showing up in droves at the track through the luge and skeleton competitions so far in these Olympics — but he’ll be racing with a Sochi native in Aleksey Voevoda.

“This is my home village,” Voevoda said. “And, as we say, at home even the house walls are helping.”

Here are five things to know about the two-man bobsled competition:

US DROUGHT: The last time an American two-man sled won the gold medal was 1936, the last time one medaled in the event was 1952. The U.S. is sending out Holcomb and Steve Langton (Melrose, Mass.) in USA-1, Cory Butner (Yucaipa, Calif.) and Chris Fogt (Alpine, Utah) in USA-2, and Nick Cunningham (Monterey, Calif.) with Dallas Robinson (Georgetown, Ky.) in USA-3.

JAMAICA RETURNS: For the first time since 2002, Jamaica will be in an Olympic race, with pilot Winston Watts teaming with Marvin Dixon. Watts bristled at the notion that Jamaica’s return to the games is less-than-serious. “We came here as an underdog,” Watts said. “We are hungry men, and hungry men are angry.”

GERMANY STREAK: Germany is trying for its fourth straight gold medal in the event, though both of the drivers who won those titles — Christoph Langen in 2002, and Andre Lange in 2006 and 2010 — have since retired from competition. Germany’s best hope of gold figures to be Friedrich, though storied brakeman Kevin Kuske (who pushed both of Lange’s two-man gold efforts) is in Germany-2 with Thomas Florschuetz, the silver medalist in Vancouver.

MONACO IS HERE: Monaco, which has an affinity for bobsledding because of Prince Albert’s love for the sport, has an Olympic entry. Patrice Serville will drive with brakeman Sebastien Gattuso.

THE FORMAT: Two runs Sunday, two more runs on Monday, and then the men’s bobsledders won’t compete again until four-man starts on Saturday. The women’s bobsled races are Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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