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Friday, February 22, 2002
 
Hays sled hoping to end American medal drought

Associated Press


PARK CITY, Utah -- Todd Hays can end 46 years of slips, slides and sunken feelings for U.S. men's bobsled in his next 90 or so seconds on ice.

Todd Hays
Todd Hays (seated) and the USA-1 sled has a good chance to break the United States' medal drought.

Hays drove the USA-1 bobsled into first place Friday after the first two heats of the four-man event, and with a couple more strong runs he may finally end a U.S. men's medal drought dating to 1956.

"We're excited and happy," said brakeman Garrett Hines, who twice has missed winning a medal by the blink of an eye. "We know that it's not over by any means. It's going to be a dogfight."

Hays, a former linebacker at Tulsa, blasted down the Utah Olympic Park course in 1 minute, 33.26 seconds in front of a rowdy crowd starting to believe this has become a magic mountain for the United States.

The Americans have won gold in the last three events -- women's bobsled and men's and women's skeleton -- on the canyon course. Fittingly, Hays can make it four in a row in the four-man.

Hays leads both Switzerland-1 and Germany-2 by .09 seconds entering Saturday's final two heats. He'll be the first sled down the hill in the third heat.

The soft-spoken native of Del Rio, Texas, didn't say a word to reporters after his two runs Friday.

"He's the man in the front, so we kind of let him do his own thing," said Hines. "He just wants to make everyone proud and get us this gold."

Martin Annen, who won the bronze medal in the two-man race, is right behind Hays. Annen is tied with Germany's Andre Lange for second.

Christoph Langen, who won gold in two-man and is the defending four-man champion from Nagano, injured his right foot on the start of the second heat and is in sixth at 1:33.68.

Langen took his shoe off after leaving the track, stuffed snow in his sock and was to have his foot examined by doctors. The 39-year-old said if it was too serious he would not race Saturday.

Brian Shimer, appearing in his fifth and final Olympics, piloted USA-2 to a time of 1:33.65 and is fifth.

The U.S. men haven't won an Olympic medal since Arthur Tyler took bronze in the four-man at Cortina, Italy, in 1956. Since then, there have been some close calls -- and some broken hearts.

In 1988 at Calgary, the U.S. missed a bronze by .02 seconds in four-man. Four years later, Shimer came up .02 short for a bronze at Nagano. And then last weekend, Hays finished .03 out of a medal.

Two more runs like he had Friday, and Hays can end the dry spell stretching back to the Eisenhower administration.

"I want it real bad," Hines said. "It means a lot of things."

Hines and Randy Jones have a chance to become the first African-American men to win gold medals in the Winter Games. Vonetta Flowers made history earlier this week by winning gold as women's bobsled made its Olympic debut.

"That would be a big accomplishment for both of us," Hines said.

With a .06 lead after a first run of 46.65 seconds, Hays guided his red sled with the two bald eagles painted on both sides down the 16-curve track without any problems in Heat 2, finishing in 46.61 seconds -- the fastest run of the day.

Hays blamed his fourth-place finish in the two-man on a case of nerves and some erratic driving. He promised to do better in the four-man race, and so far, he has.

"He's just got to put together two good runs," Shimer said, "and those guys aren't going to catch him."

Shimer has a shot at a medal, too.

The 39-year-old, edged out of a bronze in Nagano by .02 seconds in the four-man, got slow starts in both runs. But his experience helped him make up time all the way to the bottom, and he'll enter his final day of competition .30 seconds out of third.

"That's going to be hard to make up," he said. "But there's no use in holding back. It's the last day of my career."

Two sleds, New Zealand-1 and Virgin Islands-1 both crashed on the bottom part of the course and went across the finish line on their sides in the first heat.

Keith Sudziarski, the Virgin Islands driver, received eight stitches in his knees between runs. He was given medical clearance to continue, but decided against it and dropped out of competition.