Review: North Americans break stranglehold

Bobsleigh's big prizes were once routinely shared out between Europe's Alpine powerhouses but that stranglehold appears to be over.


The women's bobsleigh podium at the Vancouver Games was made up entirely of North Americans with Canada's Kaillie Humphries (pictured) winning gold and compatriot Helen Upperton the silver.

Erin Pac's bronze for the US left the Germans wandering off into the night empty-handed.

While Germany's Andre Lange did win the two-man gold to confirm his standing as the sport's most decorated Olympian, the 36-year-old soldier will not be driving in Sochi and he will be a hard act to follow.

Steve Holcomb's Night Train became the first American men's bobsleigh to win Olympic gold for 62 years on Saturday, mastering a Whistler track that had been under a cloud since the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.

"No more 62 years," Holcomb said. "We'll start the clock over. Now it's going to be four years."

For once Lange, who was chasing a third consecutive Olympic gold in the four-man, had to be content with silver. He will now retire with a total four Olympic titles from a sport he has dominated for over a decade.

While question marks are still being asked about the safety of the Whistler track it has definitely helped North Americans, particularly the Canadians, close the gap on their European counterparts.

Germany's four sliding tracks have always given their athletes the edge. The addition of Whistler, which was constructed at a cost of C$105 million (£66m) for the Vancouver Olympics, means North America now also has four.

"I hope that we can now be considered the best in the world," Humphries said when asked to explain impacts of huge investment into the Canadian sliding programme.

"I think North America is now the equal of Europe in the bobsleigh events and hopefully we are going to see that continue on the World Cup in the next few years."

Bobsleigh has always been viewed as the glamour event of the sliding sports, with speed, power, athletic ability and an element of danger all combining to produce a thrilling spectacle.

Inevitably, in the wake of Kumaritashvili's death, every crash in the bobsleigh races was greeted with a few extra gasps from those who do not regularly watch the sport.

Six crashes in the first two runs of the men's four-man event, all at corner 13, prompted further questions about Whistler's track, but with a few exceptions most of the drivers felt it presented a tough, but fair challenge.

The International Bobsleigh Federation was also pleased with the challenges Whistler posed, although it agreed that speeds would be reined in by the time the flame is lit in Sochi.

"Whistler was as spectacular as we thought, the high-speed technical aspects meant that even the top drivers ran the risk of crashing," FITB spokesman Don Krone told Reuters.

"The plans are for Sochi to be slower, it will be a normal track in terms of speed but it will be technically challenging.

"We need to keep it exciting. Turns 11, 12 and 13 were challenging here and I'm sure Sochi will have elements like that too."

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