SOCHI, Russia: Just like other sports where hundredths of a second matter, the devil is in the details. From the initial push off, through tight lines among high g-force curves, to the finish line drive, an eye blink is often the difference between a podium and an also-ran result.
World cup leader Steven Holcomb and brakeman Steven Langton relied on strength, stamina, and acumen to seize the bronze by a mere .03 seconds in the two-man bobsled event at the Sochi Olympics Sanki Sliding Center on Monday.
The Russia-1 duo of Alexander Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda, rated third in the world, won the gold on a well-practiced home track with a four heat victory in 3:45.39. Switzerland-1’s Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann, second in the international standings, sealed the silver with a 3:46.05 clocking.
Based on results from Sunday’s preliminary round of two heats, this trio of sleds advanced as the top seeds within today’s final round, also of two heats.
For the third heat, the 30 bobsled teams raced in the order of their preliminary round finish. These three pacesetters retained their podium positions after speeding along a 1314m track with speeds reaching 83 mph.
Then, the last of four runs was limited to just the top twenty pairs. This time the teams started in reverse order, to make this event even more suspenseful until the very end.
To overtake the top two sleds, Holcomb and Langton would need to steal any micro-second edge they could. Yet, at the critical explosive start of each heat, they missed gaining an advantage against the Russian and Swiss tandems. Holcomb said post-race that he strained a calf muscle in yesterday’s heats and that caused him to ease up a bit at the start.
During the third and fourth runs down this labyrinth course, they lost further ground – risking the chance of missing the podium altogether.
In the final heat, the Russia-2 sled, bolstered by the partisan cheering, jumped two spots from sixth to fourth to the knock on the podium door.
But, rising to the pressure, Holcomb piloted his BMW-manufactured sled to a near-perfect race to maintain the third spot ahead of this second Russian pair.
About winning the bronze, the first medal the U.S. team has won in this event in 62 years, Holcomb said, “Bobsledding is about a great push, great start, and great equipment. Fortunately it all came together today to win by .03 seconds.”
Switzerland then retained its runner-up position, while the Russians raced to the victory that was cheered by hundreds of fans at the finish line.
The two other U.S. American sleds, manned by Cory Butner/Chris Fogt and Nick Cunningham/Dallas Robinson, who are ranked fifth and sixth in the world, settled for 12th and 13th.
The sentimental favorite Jamaica finished last, ending their dream-like Olympic run.
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