Winter Olympics / Bobsleigh: Icy nerve crucial to success for Tout

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The Independent Online
MARK TOUT arrives in Norway today as Britain's best medal hope outside the ice rink.

The 33-year-old soldier's second place in the four-man event at the European Championships in La Plagne last month confirmed his ability to compete with the best. And with three World Cup medals to his credit this winter, plus the overall bronze in the final standings, there is no question that he now commands the utmost respect.

Yet next weekend's Olympic two- man competition will be only the second occasion this season that all the leading crews have competed together. Such is the strength of the German squad that their two Olympic drivers, 40 year-old Rudi Lochner, and Sepp Dostthaler, have not been seen on the circuit since the opening race in November.

Likewise, in four-man competition, Wolfgang Hoppe, the most successful driver of all time, and Harald Czudaj have been equally conspicuous by their absence.

So would Tout have still finished runner-up at the Europeans if the Germans had been represented by the Olympic drivers? And what danger is posed by the American No 1, Brian Shimer, bronze medallist in the 1993 world four-man championships?

Clearly, it is a question Tout has been anticipating. 'Listen,' he said, 'the Germans have six top drivers, but there's nothing to choose between them. You're not even talking about half a second.

'To me it doesn't matter who the Germans have at the Olympics. If I drive better than them on the day I'll beat them.'

Tout acknowledges Shimer's crew were the best in the world last year. 'But, for whatever reason,they've done nothing this season,' he said. 'I can't believe they will suddenly reappear at the Olympics as genuine medal prospects.'

Switzerland's defending champion, Gustav Weder, is the most successful driver over the last six years. He, too, has beem missing for much of the season after winning the first two World Cup races and, providing he is fully recovered from a thigh injury, will start as favourite to retain the two-man title.

Weder and Hoppe, as the two most experienced drivers, will be hard to beat in the four-man when so much could depend on the draw.

Tout, and his Zanussi crew of George Farrell, Jason Wing and brakeman Lenny Paul, have not been out of the top four in any of the last five four-man races. 'The best thing as far as I'm concerned is that the new Olympic track at Hunderfossen holds no advantage for anyone,' Tout said. 'I actually drove the first four-man sled down it, and have had as many runs as the rest, if not more.'

British team: Vernon Bramble, Paul Field, George Farrell, John Herbert, Sean Olsson, Lenny Paul, Robert Pope, Eric Sekwalor, Christopher Symonds, Mark Tout, Dean Ward, Jason Whig.