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A Buzz Over Bobsleds

U.S. and others weigh protests after reports that leading German duo coated runners.

February 19, 2006|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

CESANA PARIOL, Italy — As a German team raced to the lead in the two-man bobsled competition at the Winter Olympics here Saturday, the U.S. and several other countries were considering protests over the possible use of illegal sleds by the Germans.

Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske led the field after two runs, with the final two runs scheduled today. The top American duo, Todd Hays and Pavle Jovanovic, ranked sixth.

"I don't know what the deal is, but they're just absolutely flying," Jovanovic said of the Germans.

After the Germans had posted exceptionally fast times in training runs last week, a report published in a German newspaper Saturday claimed a Dresden lab had enhanced the country's sleds, coating the runners in violation of international rules.

If the Germans coated the steel runners beneath the sled with a friction reducer, the sled could generate extra speed in a sport where fractions of a second separate gold medalists from also-rans.

Lange and Kuske posted a two-run time of 1 minute 51.01 seconds, with the Canadian duo of Pierre Lueders and Lascelles Brown second at 1:51.07. The Canadians, however, were faster than the Germans in the second run, when Kuske, the brakeman, slipped and nearly fell.

Lueders, who had a copy of the German newspaper article in his pocket after the race, suggested the Germans have tampered with sleds more than once during his 16-year career.

"If that's how they want to play, they can look at the time sheet after the second run," Lueders said. "I'm getting tired of it. That was a little bit of motivation on the second run."

The Germans issued no statement, and neither did the international bobsled federation. But to the Americans, at least, there was a powerful piece of circumstantial evidence: Kuske's slip at the start of the second run.

"If anyone else had a mistake like that, it would have cost them 15 places," Hays said.

"There's a lot of buzz in the air right now," said U.S. driving coach and five-time Olympian Brian Shiner. "I don't know.... When you're that fast, you always look at the other team and go, 'Wow, are they cheating?' "

Hays blamed himself for what he considered a relatively poor showing. He selected runners best suited for the coldest weather, expecting the temperature would drop during the evening race. It did not.

"It was a gamble," he said. "It was my fault."

Still, at 1:51.53, he and Jovanovic are within three-tenths of a second of a bronze medal. The other U.S. team -- Steven Holcomb and Bill Schuffenhauer -- is 14th at 1:52.12.

U.S. team spokesman Tom LaDue said representatives of the U.S., Canada, Russia, France, Latvia and Britain met Saturday to discuss the possibility of a protest.

Martin Annen, part of the Swiss duo in third, said he could offer no definitive opinion about the legality of the German sleds.

"Indeed, they were very fast in the first run, but in the second run they lost some time," Annen said. "I didn't analyze the runs from them, so it's hard to say something.

"But I would love to have a try in their sled."

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