Winter Olympics: Olsson and crew rise to occasion

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The Independent Online
IN the land of the Rising Sun, Sean Olsson still had to endure the longest night of his bobsleighing career knowing Britain's first medal of the Winter Olympics was within grasp.

The British champion and his Zanussi crew of fellow paratrooper Dean Ward, "civvy" Courtney Rumbolt and Royal Marine Paul Attwood, were in second place overnight in the four-man competition after heavy rain forced the cancellation of yesterday's second run on Nagano's Spiral track.

And for once, rain was good news for British sporting aspirations because a three-run race offers more of an advantage to crews already in the medal positions than those looking to catch up.

Olsson had promised that the British quartet would be "awesome" off the top and he was true to his word as they smashed the previous start record from the No 1 slot in the draw.

Their time over the first 50 metres of 4.83 seconds was only bettered by Germany's Christoph Langen who clocked a staggering 4.78 seconds on his way to snatching the lead in a new track record time of 52.70.

But Olsson, who produced the run of his life to get down in 52.77 - just 0.6 seconds outside the previous track record - still clocked the fastest speed of 130kph.

"We've got to be more than happy with the way things have gone so far," said the 30-year-old Para, seeking to become Britain's first Olympic medal winner since Tony Nash drove Robin Dixon to gold in Innsbruck 34 years ago. Since then Britain have not won an Olympic medal outside the ice rink.

At the last Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, when Olsson finished eighth, team-mate Mark Tout's fifth place was the best British performance in the four man since Frederick McEvoy won the Bronze medal at Garmish-Partenkirchen in 1936. "I'd have obviously settled for being in a medal place at the end of the first day, so it's tremendously pleasing to be right up there," said Olsson, "but we've still got it all to do over the final two runs.

"We won both our world cup bronze medals at Winterberg and La Plagne this season in rainy conditions so hopefully that's a good omen."

Olsson held a 0.11-second advantage over third-placed Christian Reich of Switzerland, and was 0.16sec ahead of the previous track record holder, Brian Shimer of America who was in fourth place.

Under Olympic rules, a minimum two runs must take place for medals to be awarded. At Grenoble in 1968, Eugenio Monti won the Gold over two runs after officials cancelled the second day because of a thaw. The same had happened in St Moritz in 1928 while, four years later in Lake Placid, the four-man event was delayed until after the closing ceremony.

Having gone off first yesterday, Olsson put the Union Jack at the top of the Olympic leader board for the first time since Tout and Lenny Paul led the two man competition after the first two runs at Albertville in 1992.

However, they slipped back on the second day to finish sixth - which was the only reminder Olsson needed yesterday to take nothing for granted.