PARK CITY, Utah You take a sport, play it on ice and put the athletes in sleds and where do you think the winners are going to come from?
Georgia? Texas? Or Germany?
The result everyone expected was realized Sunday when Christoph Langen and Markus Zimmermann claimed the gold medal in two-man bobsleigh at the 2002 Winter Olympics. And when the wait for America's first bobsleigh medal since 1956 was extended.
Americans Todd Hays and Garret Hines were in position to medal until the final of four heats, all of which are combined to give each team its final time. They had their best run of the weekend on their last attempt, covering the course in 47.63 seconds and overcoming a deficit of just .09 to move into third place.
But the Swiss team of Martin Annen and Beat Hefti followed with their second strong run of the day, bumping Hays and Hines out of medal postion by .03. Switzerland's Christian Reich and Steve Anderhub earned the silver medal.
"I thought we were going to have it there, but you've got to hand it to Martin, he's some athlete,'' said Hays, who was competing in his first Olympics. "He did it and he deserves the medal. Coming in, I just hoped the best man won and today the Swiss was a better team.''
That has often been the case when it comes to a sport in which teams of two start by pushing a little boxcar on blades and then jump in and ride, reaching speeds of up to 90 mph on their way down a winding, banked course.
Other countries breed bobsledders. Here, we wait for them to fall over from other sports.
Hays, a former linebacker and extreme fighter from Del Rio, Texas, discovered the sport accidentally when his brother coerced him into participating in an event. Hines, an Atlantan by way of Chicago, played football and ran track at Southern Illinois University, and wound up in a sled the way most push athletes do: by being fast and strong.
For Hines, one of three African-Americans on the U.S. bobsleigh team, Sunday's near miss was doubly painful. In 1998, he was part of a four-man team that missed medaling by :0.02, meaning less time than it takes to hiccup has kept the 32-year-old father of three from two Olympic medals.
"I can only imagine his pain having to go through this twice,'' Hays said of Hines, who was nursing laryngitis Sunday and did not comment after the race. "But I'll take this pain to the four-man and see if it can't motivate me to a better performance.''
Todd Hays and Garrett Hines (not seen) of the United States in USA-1 are congratulated by members of their team after finishing fourth in the Men's two-man Bobsled at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in Park City, Utah, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2002.
AP Photo/David. J. Phillip
Hays and Hines, who teamed up only after pusher Pavle Jovanovich was ruled ineligible for the Games because of a positive drug test, had a better performance Sunday than the day before.
After Saturday's two heats, they were in fifth place, .36 seconds behind the leaders Reich and Anderhub. Needing to make up ground in the third heat, the Americans had their best run yet, but in cutting just .09 of a second off of Saturday's best, they lost ground and were sitting .52 behind the lead.
Then they topped their own best run in the final leg, only to be topped themselves two runs later.
"It's hard to say what happened yesterday,'' said Hays. "I made some mistakes and you can't make mistakes. I'm excited about the way we came back today. I'm proud of what we did.''
Savannah Morning News sports columnist Tim Guidera is part of a Morris News Service team covering the 2002 Winter Olympics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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