Winter Olympics: Double bob not the job for Brits

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The Independent Online
A SWITCH of sleds failed to revive Sean Olsson's hopes of a top- 10 finish in the Olympic bobsleigh two-man race here yesterday.

The British champion has won two bronze medals in World Cup four-man competition this season, but he obviously likes a crowd as he has been unable to find the same form in the two-man event with a best finish of 12th in Winterberg. And that prompted his decision at the start of official practice this week to hand over the new pounds 16,000 Swiss-made Hiltebrand sledge to the rookie driver Lee Johnston and go back to driving last year's tried and trusted Dresden.

It was all to no avail as Olsson, who finished joint 10th in the two- man on his Olympic debut in Lillehammer four years ago, and his brakeman, Lenny Paul, found themselves in a disappointing 15th place after yesterday's opening two runs on Nagano's Spiral track.

"To be honest that's about our par for the course this season," said the 30-year-old paratrooper and captain of the British Zanussi team. "The rain and snow in the track didn't help but that's not an excuse. We were going OK until I got it wrong coming out of the 10th corner on the first run when we took a couple of big hits.

"And we also got into a slide on the second one which dropped us back another place. But whoever wins here is going to deserve it because it's a difficult track to get right all the way down."

Olsson, however, was not going to lose any sleep last night. "This weekend is just a dress rehearsal for the big one," he said. "It's the four-man we're really here for because that's going to be our big chance. We're quietly confident we'll do ourselves justice with a better crew and better starts. So that's the time to look out for us."

Johnston, in the No 2 Great Britain bob, only knew he would be driving at the Olympics three weeks ago and is on course to attain his target of a top-20 finish. He and Eric Sekwalor were in 22nd after an opening time of 55.51sec. But they started 0.01sec faster than Olsson on the second run when they pulled up one place with the 19th fastest time of 55.19.

Today's race for the gold medal looks like being a two-man affair between the overnight leader Guenther Huber of Italy and Canada's Pierre Lueders who were separated by just four-hundredths of a second. Huber, the bronze medalist in Lillehammer, won the opening run in 54.51 seconds. But Lueders edged the next by just 0.01 seconds after clocking a new record start time of 4.96sec.

The showdown will be another enthralling episode in a long-standing rivalry and Lueders is optimistic that it will be his day. "I've stolen the World Cup title from Huber the last two years so I'm sure that's in the back of his mind," he said. "I like to be a thief sometimes."

Switzerland's Christian Reich starts today a further 0.45sec off the pace in third place. But he has only a 0.14sec advantage over the chasing pack of six who are separated by just six-hundredths of a second.