Humphries drives Canada-1 to women’s bobsled lead; Pac has Americans in medal hunt

By Tim Reynolds, AP
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Canada-1 leads midway through women’s bobsled

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Only a few days ago, U.S. bobsledder Erin Pac insisted that she had no idea how to get safely down the speedway of a track at the Vancouver Games. And that was before she strained her left hamstring, which had Pac fearing her Olympics were over.

Those problems disappeared Tuesday night.

USA-2, driven by Pac and pushed by Elana Meyers, is a mere 0.13 seconds away from track-record-setters Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse of Canada after Tuesday’s first two runs of the Olympic women’s bobsled competition. The event concludes Wednesday with two more runs at the maligned and modified Whistler Sliding Center track.

“As mean as this sounds, I really don’t care who is there,” Humphries said. “As long as I’m one of them, bring ‘em all. I don’t care.”

Humphries drove Canada-1 down the track twice in 1:46.20 seconds. Pac and Meyers were clocked in 1:46.33. It’s a wide gap of another 0.27 seconds to third, held by Germany-2 pilot Cathleen Martini.

“I thought the standings would be a little different,” Pac said, “but I’m happy to be in there.”

That says something, given that Pac seemed anything but happy about things just a few days ago. Here’s a sampling of what she had to say over the weekend about the Olympic track:

— “Definitely not safe.”

— “It’s a huge struggle for me.”

— “I clearly have not learned it yet.”

Clearly, something drastic has changed since.

“First run, my whole top was very smooth, and I was very happy about that. And (then) the bottom half was not so smooth,” Pac said Tuesday night, her hamstring still aching. “And then I switched for the second one, my top wasn’t smooth and my bottom was good. I’m hoping tomorrow I can put those two together and be consistent.”

Defending Olympic gold medalist Sandra Kiriasis of Germany is fifth, one spot ahead of pilots Shauna Rohbock in USA-1 and Bree Schaaf in USA-3. Rohbock and Schaaf are nearly a full second off Canada-1’s lead.

“Not good,” said Rohbock, a silver medalist in 2006. “I’ve been struggling in (curves) 4 and 5 all week, and I just couldn’t put it together. Nobody has a clue.”

Well, not nobody.

Humphries and Pac sure seem to have an idea of what’s happening out there.

It was the first competition on the Whistler track since workers shaved away a bit of ice entering Curve 11 — a subtle, yet important, move made to help give sleds the chance of finding the right line entering the most critical part of the course through Curve 13. Four-man drivers who trained Tuesday before the women’s race said they found it much easier to navigate, though still extremely difficult.

Schaaf said she couldn’t feel the changes.

“I don’t think there are any,” Schaaf said. “Does that sound bad? I don’t try to sound negative. I had the exact same mistakes all the way down. I think it might have been like a little placebo track changes, to make us all think that everything’s great. Because I had the exact same problems.”

It’s still the toughest track in the world.

“With 11, 12 and 13, everything’s wide open,” Rohbock said. “Look at what happened to Lyndon Rush.”

He’s the Canadian medal hopeful who crashed during the two-man competition — admittedly, before the ice was modified.

There wasn’t a single crash Tuesday, though plenty of scrapes with big trouble.

Manami Hino of Japan did everything but crash in her second run, going sideways near the track’s roof in one corner, yet escaped unscathed. Australia’s Astrid Loch-Wilkinson nearly lost control as well, and even Kiriasis — long considered the best women’s driver in the world — flirted with danger on the very first run of the competition, skidding a bit sideways and losing time.

“I (messed) up,” Kiriasis said.

Somehow, Pac was perfect — on a track where, just a few days ago, she felt entirely uncomfortable.

“Two more runs,” Pac said, “and I’m just focusing on that right now.”

American sliders skipped Monday night’s final women’s training session, choosing not to get a look at the slightly modified ice before the race.

The day off might have done Pac a world of good.

After hurting her leg on Saturday, Pac’s status for the games seemed to be a bit of question, especially after Meyers used Twitter to tell fans to “pray for Erin’s health.”

That balky leg sure looked fine Tuesday. Good enough, anyway.

“I can’t worry about that,” Pac said.

Pac crossed the line in 53.05 seconds in her second run, throwing her arms in the air in unison with U.S. coach Bill Tavares while Meyers showed off her red, white and blue mouthpiece for the cameras.

Women’s bobsled came into the Olympic program in 2002, and the U.S. has been one of the elite programs in the world since, with Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers winning gold at Salt Lake City, followed by Rohbock and Valerie Fleming taking a silver at Turin in 2006.

Pac has the Americans thinking podium once again.

Finding a way past Canada-1 for the top spot, that might be daunting.

Humphries and Moyse have shown off the best starts in the world all season, and with a few snowflakes dotting the ice at the start of the Olympic race, they were the best off the line again — a time of 5.12 seconds in the first run, then 5.11 seconds in the second run.

From there, Humphries took over, the experience gleaned from 150-plus runs on the Olympic surface paying off in every turn.

“The race isn’t over yet,” Humphries said.

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