Saturday, February 23, 2002
Americans second, third in four-man bobsled
PARK CITY, Utah -- Don't faint, Todd Hays. Dry those tears, Brian Shimer. It's over.
The Americans ended nearly a half-century of Olympic frustration for the U.S. men's bobsled team, driving to the silver and bronze medals in the four-man race Saturday.
"That was amazing!" Hays shouted. "We've got a 46-year monkey off our back. I can't think of a better way for it to end -- two medals. If I hear 46 years again, I think I'm going to pass out."
The gold went to Olympic rookie Andre Lange and Germany-2, which finished the four heats in 3 minutes, 7.51 seconds.
Hays, with Randy Jones, Bill Schuffenhauer and brakeman Garrett Hines behind him, drove his fire-engine red USA-1 sled to second in 3:07.81 before a boisterous crowd of 15,000, who believed that Utah Olympic Park had become a magic mountain.
Hays barely held off Shimer, who staged a stunning rally to win his first medal in his last Olympic race. Shimer, who had Mike Kohn, Doug Sharp and brakeman Dan Steele with him, won bronze in 3:07.86, sliding past World Cup champion Martin Annen of Switzerland on the final run.
That wasn't supposed to happen, and Shimer's teammates knew it.
"He's the guy who shouldn't have made the team this year," Steele said. "But sometimes real life is even better than any kind of Hollywood script you can write."
When it was all over, Shimer ran to his family and burst into tears, just as he had promised.
"I've been in this sport 16 years," he said. "I did it on my last run in my last Olympics. This is a fairy-tale ending. Who doesn't like that?"
It also was a special moment for the other Americans.
Hines and Jones became the first black U.S. men to win medals in the Winter Olympics. And Schuffenhauer won silver after replacing Pavle Jovanovic, who was suspended for two years just days before the games for failing a drug test.
Schuffenhauer, from Roy, Utah, was humbled by the experience. His mother, who is homeless, had to watch the race from jail, where she has spent much of her life on drug charges.
"I just want to be a role model, show kids who might think there's not a light of hope. I want them to know that there is," said Schuffenhauer, who hasn't seen his mother in a year. "I want people to realize that there is something out there if you have a goal and make sacrifices."
The medals came five days after Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won the inaugural women's bobsled race for the United States. Flowers was the first black athlete to win a Winter Olympic gold medal.
The U.S. men's team, a powerhouse in the sport in its early days, had not won an Olympic bobsled medal since Arthur Tyler and his teammates took the four-man bronze at the 1956 Cortina Games. The United States had not won two medals in the same bobsled race since the 1948 St. Moritz Games.
At these games, the Americans had won gold in the three previous races on the 15-curve canyon course at Bear Hollow: women's bobsled and men's and women's skeleton.
When Hays jumped into the lead after the first two runs Friday, everybody sensed another.
He had the fastest time on each of those heats but had declined to speak afterward, preferring to concentrate on the race. He held a slim .09 of a second lead over Annen and Lange, who were tied for second.
It was much warmer Saturday -- 44 degrees and slightly windy at the start of the third heat -- and that slowed the times. Hays was first to slide, and when he matched his start time from the second run as scores of fans yelled and waved American flags, he appeared set to extend his lead.
But his finish time was 47.22 seconds, more than a half-second slower than the previous heat, and the gold had slipped away. Lange made up .38 with the fastest third run.
With a medal in reach for the first time in so many years, Hays and Shimer came back strong with the fastest times of the final heat to make the podium. They celebrated wildly at the finish line when Annen fell to fourth, hugging each other in disbelief.
"It was like watching someone resuscitate someone from a heart attack," Jones said. "It's been up and down, up and down, an emotional roller-coaster."
Shimer's farewell couldn't have ended much better. Soon to be 40 and long past his prime, he came back for his fifth Olympics to try to win the medal that had eluded him.
Shimer was there when Brent Rushlaw lost the four-man bronze at Calgary in 1988 by .02, and he was the driver four years ago who lost the same medal by the same minuscule margin.
Hays, a former national kickboxing champion, became the top driver on the U.S. team in the past year and one of the best in the world. He won his first World Cup race only last March, then followed that up by winning the first three races of the just-completed season.
When Hays decided to skip the final two events to concentrate on training for the Olympics, he was the overall World Cup leader. Pretty heady stuff for the former college linebacker at Tulsa, who always thought he would find success on the football field, not inside a speeding bobsled.
Meanwhile, Christoph Langen, the defending four-man champion and one of the greatest drivers ever, and longtime teammate Markus Zimmerman were seeking their fifth Olympic medal together for Germany.
Instead, they could only watch the final two heats because Langen injured his left foot during the start of the second heat on Friday and was unable to compete.