WHISTLER, British Columbia -- It's not the way top U.S. driver SteveHolcomb wanted to move up, but the crash of Canada's top two-man bobsled Saturday left Holcomb's team in fourth place and in sight of breaking a U.S. two-man bobsled medal drought that dates to 1952.
Canadian pilot LyndonRush and brakeman LascellesBrown -- a member of the Jamaican bobsled team from 1999 to 2004 -- appeared headed for fourth when they became one three teams to crash as sleds hit speeds that topped 90 mph. None of the athletes was seriously injured. Now Holcomb and brakeman CurtTomasevicz sit just 0.12 of a second out of the bronze medal spot heading into Sunday's final two runs.
"A medal?" Holcomb said rhetorically when asked how much a podium finish would mean. "It would be huge. We haven't won a two-man medal since ... I don't even know how long."
One of the world's best drivers and pilot of the top four-man team in the world this season, Holcomb fought back after a mistake in his first run had left him in sixth. Drivers had been saying in training that the ice at the entrance to several curves was built up too much from the wall, making it difficult to get properly positioned on some curves. The track crew began shaving back some of the ice before the competition started, but Holcomb said it was tough to take his first run on a course that had just changed.
In his first run Holcomb had trouble on the exit of curve 11, which put him late onto the entrance wall of curve 12, a hard left, and in bad position heading into 13, which Holcomb and his teammates famously named the "50/50" curve last year -- they wrote "Curve 50/50", a reference to the perceived odds of making it through without crashing -- on a ripped-open brown bag from order-in sushi.
Holcomb nearly joined the wrong 50 percent on Saturday as his sled began to tip on the inside of curve 13, a slight right, but he was able to keep it right-side up. "I almost lost it there," Holcomb said afterward, adding, "This track is challenging. Everybody's going to make a mistake on it, so hopefully I just got mine out of the way."
In addition to the three crashes, a number of other sleds nearly lost it. Australian pilot DuncanHarvey, who returned to the track after a training run wipeout had landed him in the hospital on Thursday, narrowly averted another crash on Saturday. "I'm pretty pumped up on painkillers right now," said Harvey, who tore muscles in his back as a result of the Thursday crash. "The pressure of the corners is causing a lot of pain."
Several male and female bobsled pilots have been saying that speed of the track -- the same one on which Georgian luger NodarKumaritashvili was killed in training on the first day of the Games -- coupled with the limited amount of practice they've had on it is treacherous. "I think they built it a little too fast, but it's the track we have to race on," said MikeKohn, driver of the third U.S. two-man sled.
U.S. two-woman pilot BreeSchaaf was a little more direct after her training runs on Saturday. "You're standing at the top and thinking you're ready to vomit," she said.