Winter Olympics / Four-Man Bobsleigh: Tout confident for contest with the best: Chris Moore Reports from Lillehammer on the prospects for the four-man bobsleigh

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The Independent Online
FOR once in his life today the prince would gladly trade places with the 'pauper' when Albert Grimaldi and Mark Tout take to the ice in the Olympic four-man bobsleigh event in Lillehammer.

All week here Prince Albert, the 35-year-old heir to the Monaco throne, has been turning to the British No 1 for guidance on how best to handle the Hunderfossen track.

It is the end of the Olympic road for the Royal driver this weekend - having confirmed he will not be making a fourth appearance at the Winter Games in Nagano in 1998 - and there is no one trying harder to achieve a personal best.

But while Tout was confirming his standing as a genuine medal prospect with the third fastest time on the final day of practice, the only competing member of the International Olympic Committee was

going through mental torture.

Pacing the finish zone like a caged lion after a poor final training run, his frustrations finally got the better of him as he hurled his shoes against a wall. 'I'm oversteering all the time and can't get it right,' he said. 'But my biggest problem is that my starts are nowhere near good enough. Yes, I wish I had Mark Tout's crew behind me.'

Tout, in comparison, has never been as calm, confident and relaxed on the eve of a major race after a problem-free build-up. 'There are no doubts in my mind that we can win a medal on Sunday,' said the 33-year- old soldier who finished second in the European Championships last month. 'OK, there were two or three of the top teams here that didn't compete at the Europeans. But apart from Gustav Weder, I've beaten them all over the season.'

Weder became the first driver in Olympic history to retain the two- man title last weekend and is a strong favourite now to become only the third to pull off the Olympic double. 'But nothing is written in stone in this sport,' Tout

insisted. 'There are six crews, possibly seven, in the frame including ourselves, and any three of them could end up in the medals.'

Tout's crew of George Farrell,

Jason Wing and Lenny Paul, have deliberately held back on the start in training. 'The tactics in practice have been psychological as much as anything,' Tout admitted. 'We know Weder has been riding on warm runners, and I've even seen Gunther Huber, who beat me for the gold at the Europeans, deliberately steering in the straight. But we've still got enough in hand at the start ourselves to shoot the hell out of a few of them.

'That's going to be the critical factor. Providing we're in touch with the fastest starters I know I'm driving well enough, particularly over the bottom half, to win a medal.'

Two of the greatest Alpine skiers, Vreni Schnieder and Alberto Tomba, aim to sign off their Olympic careers place in the record books by winning this weekend's men's and women's slaloms. Schneider, of Switzerland, could become the first woman to win three Alpine golds and any medal would give her an Alpine record total of five. The Italian Tomba is aiming to become the first man to win an Alpine gold medal at three successive Games.

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