Soldiers shine in Olympic two-man bobsleds at Whistler
February 24, 2010
By Tim Hipps
WHISTLER, British Columbia (Feb. 24, 2010) - Sgt. John Napier reacted like a 6-year-old boy on Christmas morning after he drove Team USA II to a 10th-place finish in the Olympic two-man bobsled event Feb. 20-21 at Whistler Sliding Centre.
Napier, a bobsled pilot in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, teamed with Steve Langton for a four-run combined time of 3 minutes, 29.40 seconds in their Olympic debut on the fastest bobsled track in the world.
"Steve and I are just having the times of our lives," said Napier, 23, who began bobsledding at age 8 on his hometown track in Lake Placid, N.Y. "It's so much fun being out here with the crowd and the spectators and the support. The organizing committee makes it a blast.
"It's probably the most fun I'll ever have in bobsled."
Napier's smile revealed that sentiment when he climbed from the sled and waved to adoring fans who were chanting "USA! USA! USA!"
Team USA II powered off the starting blocks in 4.91 and 4.93 seconds for runs of 52.31 and 52.36 seconds respectively.
"The first thing that crossed my mind when I crossed the finish line was, 'Man, I want to do this again,'" said Langton, 26, of Melrose, Mass. "I'm really happy with a top-10 finish. I think we did really well and I'm looking forward to doing even better next week. I feel like we have a really good shot at the medals in four-man."
Olympic four-man competition is scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Napier loves the speed generated on the 1,450-meter track that features a 148-meter vertical drop. It cost $104.9-million (Canadian) to build.
"I just love the toughness," Napier said. "I love the speed."
Napier realizes, however, that sleds are running on the cutting edge.
"I'm not sure how much faster and how much harder I can drive," he said. "Are we going to live in fear of that or are we going to accept it' Or you can quit, which is the third option. It's fast. It's challenging. That's why most of us do it. I love it and I live for the fear and the rush."
Napier also is ecstatic about representing troops worldwide at the XXI Olympic Winter Games.
"I got an e-mail yesterday from a troop I didn't know and I've never met in my life," Napier said. "He said, 'Hey, I just want to commend you on what you're doing. I notice you're an athlete, you're an Army athlete, and you're a Christian athlete.' He said 'I got blown up by an IED attack last year and I'm out of the Army right now.' I'm not sure of the extent of his injuries, but he said 'getting blown up sucks but you make it worth it by what you're doing for the Army and how you're representing makes it worth it.'
"I realized at that point the only way I can lose is to hold my head low as any finisher, whether I make it downwind, crash and get last place, the only way I can lose is if I don't try my hardest or hold my head down low. So I'm going to hold it high and I'm going to represent for the Army for that Soldier and many other Soldiers overseas right now."
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Andre Lange of Germany teamed with Kevin Kuske to win the gold medal with a four-run time of 3:26.65. They were clocked at 93.8 miles per hour en route to final runs of 51.57 and 51.77 seconds. The Germany-2 sled manned by Thomas Florschuetz and Richard Adjei took the silver with a time of 3:26.87. Russia's Alexsandr Zubkov, the 2006 two-man Olympic silver medalist, claimed the bronze with brakeman Alexey Voevoda in 3:27.51.
Former WCAP and current Army National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program bobsled driver Mike Kohn, 37, of Chantilly, Va., teamed with Nick Cunningham, 24, of Monterey, Calif., to finish 12th with a time of 3:29.78 in USA III. Germany and the United States were the only two nations to qualify three sleds for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"Top 12 at the Olympic Games: there's worse things in the world for a 37-year-old washed up guy," Kohn said. "I feel pretty good. I felt confident on the track and got Nick some experience. It's a great day to be out here with my family representing the Olympic Games."
"This is the only competition that brings the world together and it's all for a sporting event," Cunningham added. "This is absolutely amazing. To be standing here wearing the stars and stripes is a dream come true."
Former WCAP driver Steve Holcomb, 29, the reigning world champion in four-man competition from Park City, Utah, drove USA I to a sixth-place finish with Curt Tomasevicz, 29, of Shelby, Neb., aboard with a time of 3:27.94.
"I'd like to say that we were just gearing up for four-man, but we came out here to win just like everybody else," Holcomb said. "We gave it everything we had.
"I drove well. We had two good pushes and the sleds are fast. The Germans had something we didn't today and that's why they won."
Olympic bobsled action resumes with four-man training through Thursday and competition on Friday and Saturday. Holcomb and his four-man crew broke the United States' 50-year World Championship medal drought by winning the 2009 crown. Their goal is to win four-man Olympic gold for Team USA for the first time since Francis Tyler struck gold in 1948.
(Tim Hipps writes for FMWRC Public Affairs.)