Sunday, March 11, 2007

Stranger Things Have Happened

Heading in to the final 4-man race we had a 70 point deficit to the Russians. All week the coaches had been calculating what it would take to win the Overall 4-man World Cup Title. Basically the Russians would have to crash, and we would have to win. The chances of that are pretty slim. Mainly because when you're leading the World Cup by 70 points it means you're pretty damn good, and the chances that you're going to crash in the last two runs of the season are extremely slim. However, stranger things have happened.

The race started a little late that day. Not sure why, there is such a tight TV schedule that the race is literally calculated to within seconds for commercial breaks. It's actually quite impressive. So, needless to say things were a bit strange to begin with. Well, the Russians happened to draw number 1 and we were 9th. About the only advantage to being 9th is that you know how the best sleds have done before you go. Other than that, 9th pretty much sucks for a top seed draw. (Unless you're in St. Moritz, but that's another story for another time.)

Knowing what had to happen for the Russians to lose the lead, it was a pretty relaxed mood in the start house. Maybe a bit too relaxed. Its a completely different mindset when the World Championships are in the middle of the season instead of the very end; AND the last race doesn't have much of purpose because the Russians have such a huge lead. So, as you can imagine, the mood was light.

Anyway, they finally cleared the track for the first sled, RUS I. Off they went, down the track to a simple victory. All he has to do is finish the race and he'll be World Cup Champion. They had a pretty good start time 4.84. Not quite as good as ours of 4.82 but still fast enough. When you're in the start house, all you really listen to is the start time and the finish time, everything else is pretty much worthless information. So nobody was really paying attention to the announcer, especially because half of the people can't speak German. For all I know he could have been calling me a half witted orangutan all day. However, there is one thing that people do understand, emotion. No matter what language somebody is speaking, even if you don't understand, you can understand how they are feeling, or what they are trying to express by the tone of their voice. It's very interesting.

So, we were sitting, waiting for our turn, joking with one another, counting down the seconds to our departure from Europe when the announcer began screaming with shock and excitement, we all recognized right away what had happened. Russia had crashed.

I've been to Europe 15 times and I can still only do 3 things in German; order a meal at McDonald's, clear a bobsled track, and send a letter via Airmail. Luftpost bitte. So, like I said, everybody knew exactly what had happened to the Russians. The light mood that was so refreshing was now a mood that I only see a few times a year. The door has been opened, now we just have to walk through it. My whole team new what was at stake, we missed a World Championship by a few hundredths, we're not going to lose the World Cup Title by a few points.

We went out there and performed to our ability, we finished the first run in 2nd place, only a few hundredths out of first. It was the first step in getting out 4-man title. For once, every sled in the race was just as important as the next. You see, even though the Russians crashed, they are still allowed to take a second run given that all 4 athletes crossed the finish line touching the sled. (Touching meaning they could all be dragging behind, holding on to the sled as they finish and it would still count.)

Where was I, oh yeah, there were 21 sleds in the race. If 20 sleds finished ahead of the Russians, they would not get a second run; we would only have to finish in the top 13 to pull ahead in points. That would make life much easier for us, unfortunately they beat 2 sleds. Our luck wasn't that good.

Knowing exactly where the Russians stood for the second run, every coach and athlete started making the calculations. Here's what it came down to, if we stay in 2nd place, the Russians have to finish 13th or worse; if we win, they must finish 10th or worse. There was no finishing 3rd for us.

Nobody on that tour thought it would come down to the last run. Not with a 70 point difference. Well, it did.

The second run started, and the Russians were off 2nd. They knew exactly what they had to do; and they did it. They put down a smokin' run. They moved up from 19th to 15th, to 12th, to 11th, 10th. One more sled and it was over. Sure enough they beat Russia II by .05s. Coincidence? Probably not. They ended up in 9th place. One spot ahead of where they had to. I'll tell you what though. They had the fastest run of the 2nd heat, and they lost to Germany I, Andre Lange, by .03s. Anybody that crashes and nearly beats Germany on a German track deserves the World Cup Title. That is a feat in itself.

Needless to say, we knew there was no chance for us to beat the Russians, but we still had a chance to win the race. We stood at the top of the track as ready as we had ever been. We had another great start, another great drive, however, I nearly crashed in the same place as the Russians. Hey, there was a rut in the ice from all the sleds before us and we hit it nearly sending us over on our side. No problem, I'd actually been there before in the 2004 World Championships. Experience saved us. We ended up finishing 2nd behind the Canadians, and 2nd behind the Russians.

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