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Archive for Saturday, February 23, 2002

U.S. will try to end 46-year futility in bobsled today

February 23, 2002

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— Apolo has already taken off, and now he's hoping to fly higher and win a few more medals. Bode is going for broke again, ready to ski like a champion in his best event.

The Olympics might be winding down, but the U.S. medal count is still climbing and two of the top Americans have a chance to add to the total today.

Apolo Anton Ohno could win two more of the four projected for him when he races in short-track speedskating's 500 meters and team relay. He already has gold in the 1,500 and silver in the 1,000.

The 19-year-old Ohno could become the second American to win at least four medals at the same Olympics. Eric Heiden won five speedskating golds at the 1980 Lake Placid Games.

"I'm not even thinking about it," Ohno said. "The 500 is going to be wild. It's such high speed, only 41¼2 laps, so many good guys. Hopefully, I'll just get to the final."

Bode Miller, who rallied for silvers in the combined and giant slalom, will try to become the first American to win three Alpine medals in a career, let alone the same Olympics.

"If I can come down and feel like I raced a really great race in the slalom, I think I'll have a gold," he said. "I have a better chance in slalom because my speed puts me ahead of a lot of guys. I can make mistakes and still win."

He knows plenty about making mistakes.

Miller goes all-out, an aggressive style that caused problems for the 24-year-old New Hampshire skier early in his career. This season, he channeled his recklessness into a winning form.

"He has a crazy style in skiing," said Stephan Eberharter, the Austrian who won the giant slalom. "But he is fast, and that's what counts."

Bobsledder Todd Hays tries to break a 46-year medals drought for the American men. It would be easy to say the pressure of getting the first U.S. medal since 1956 is off, since Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers won the women's race.

Hays doesn't see it that way.

"It's still our job to break the streak," said Hays who missed bronze in the two-man by .03 seconds. "Men haven't won in 46 years. The women did a wonderful job. Let's hope we can do the same thing."

Brian Shimer, the other U.S. driver, agrees.

"I told everybody, 'The women won, no pressure on us now,"' said the 39-year-old Shimer, who is retiring after his fifth Olympics. "But no, that's not the case, not at all, and nobody's going to see it that way."

Hays gets a new crew member, former decathlete Billy Schuffenhauer. He replaces Pavle Jovanovic, who was suspended for two years after failing a drug test in December.

"Billy's doing great and I expect him to do well," Hays said. "He's a great athlete and learns really quickly."

The men's hockey bronze medal game is also on the schedule. Russia will play Belarus. The United States defeated Russia 3-2 on Thursday in the semifinals, a rematch of the Miracle on Ice semifinal in 1980.

There's also the women's 5,000 in speedskating and the men's 50-kilometer freestyle race in cross-country skiing, where German-born Johann Muehlegg of Spain already has golds in the 20K pursuit and 30K freestyle.

After his second victory, Muehlegg took calls from Spanish King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, some of the distractions leading up to the mass start 50K.

"I got 21¼2 hours sleep after the last medal," Muehlegg said.

Some forecasts had Ohno winning four gold medals in Salt Lake City, but the skater from Seattle pointed out that wasn't a realistic goal because of the wild, lottery-style outcomes in short-track.

Ohno's analysis proved correct in his first race, when he got trapped in a pileup near the finish line and Australian Steven Bradbury coasted to the gold. Ohno was second but needed six stitches to close a cut in his left thigh.

"I couldn't even jog," he said. "I was just laying on my bed all day. I was almost in disbelief."

Ohno came back to win the 1,500, another medal gleaned from a wacky finish. A Korean skater crossed the line first but was disqualified for interference. Ohno's final event is the relay, where the Americans own the world title.

"I think our guys are capable of anything, coming out of this year as world champions," he said.

This season, Miller became the first American skier to win a World Cup giant slalom since Phil Mahre in 1983. The next day, he became the first American to win a slalom since Steve Mahre that season.

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