Why U.S. bobsled teams are thinking big

January, 24, 2010

OK, the U.S. men haven't won a gold medal in bobsled since 1948, and yes, German four-man driver Andre Lange will be in Vancouver to defend the four-man gold medals he won in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Torino in 2006 (and the two-man gold in Torino, as well), but I'm starting to get fired up about the Americans' chances in Vancouver.

It isn't that the homer in me has already lost any shred of objectivity, but watching the NFL playoffs -- particularly the San Diego Chargers lose in the second round this past weekend and the Philadelphia Eagles getting crushed by Dallas in the first -- oddly had my mind focused on U.S. bobsled's four-man Night Train crew of driver Steven Holcomb and his trio of Justin Olson, Curt Tomasevicz and Steve Mesler.

My mind works that way. Stay with me.

In the case of both the Chargers and the Eagles, success is an interesting concept. Both teams are championship-caliber each season. Both teams succeed in the initial goal at the start of any season -- to be competitive enough to have an opportunity to play for a title when the season ends. Yet the Chargers haven't been to a Super Bowl since 1995, and this current Eagles group has been to six -- count 'em, six -- NFC Championship Games and appeared in the Super Bowl once (a loss to the Patriots).

So what's the connection? Holcomb and crew have proved themselves to be the team to beat. Previous to 2006, Holcomb hadn't won a medal in any World Cup competition. But after winning big in 2009 and during this World Cup season, only Mr. T wears more metal around his neck. Still, Holcomb and the Night Train crew don't have the Olympic medal -- the one that, at least to the world's laymen, counts the most.

The similarities between the USA 1 quartet and the 1948 team may be actually closer to the Boston Red Sox of 2003 and 2004. Each team was excellent, each emerging, each by far the most accomplished and talented Red Sox teams in decades, each completely unconnected to the past. And yet, the past stayed present until they won.

I met with the bobsled team in October in Lake Placid -- the Night Team crew is bobsledding's answer to "Animal House" (even the low-key Holcomb seems to have a devilish streak in him) -- and they were saying then what they are saying even louder as Vancouver approaches: Forget the history, forget coming close, they are the team to beat.

The U.S. women do not want to be overshadowed. Shauna Rohbock, driven and no-nonsense, is, along with her crew partner Michelle Rzepka, a gold-medal favorite herself.

On Friday afternoon, Rohbock, who won a silver medal in 2006, and Rzepka set a course record at Igls, Austria, motivated by the German challenge. After breaking the track record set in 2001 by Germany's Sandra Kiriasis, rival Cathleen Martini rebroke Rohbock and Rzepka's course record earlier in the day.

"Winning is always a confidence boost, and I couldn't have asked for a better way to end the World Cup season," said Rohbock. "Hopefully we can carry this momentum into next month.

"After I saw Cathleen's time in the second heat, I immediately looked at Mickie and told her that the track record was ours and we needed to get it back. We knew we needed to have a great push time and that I would have to nail the run perfectly, but I thought we could do it."

So, the stage is set -- at least in the bobsled. The American men and women are both thinking big.

Howard Bryant | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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