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WINTER OLYMPICS

Andre Lange takes fast track on way to milestone

German wins the two-man bobsled to become the most decorated pilot in Olympic history.

February 22, 2010|By Candus Thomson

Reporting from Whistler, Canada — In German racing, there's Porsche and BMW and Andre Lange.

Lange won the two-man bobsled Sunday night -- his fourth gold medal -- to become the most decorated pilot in bobsled history.

"I didn't really expect to win here," Lange said. "It will take time to really realize what's happened."

He made history in style, taking three of four heats with a combined time of 3 minutes 26.65 seconds, and setting the track record of 93.58 mph Saturday night.

The crowd, which clearly was hoping for a Canadian medal, embraced the moment, applauding and cheering as Lange bear-hugged longtime brakeman Kevin Kuske and waved the German flag. Thomas Florschuetz (3:26.87) made it a 1-2 finish for Germany. Alexsandr Zubkov of Russia won the bronze (3:27.51).

Lange surpasses countryman Bernhard Germeshausen, who won three gold medals and one silver in 1976 and 1980.

Lange, 36, won his first gold medal in the four-man competition during his Olympic debut at the 2002 Salt Lake Games. He earned gold in the two-man and four-man events at the 2006 Turin Games, becoming the first driver to win gold in both events since Wolfgang Hoppe of East Germany in 1984.

In all, he has medaled 14 times in world championships, including eight wins. He plans to retire after the four-man competition.

This was not an easy season for Lange. He struggled with a groin injury early in the World Cup circuit, sitting out the second race of the season in Lake Placid, N.Y. But he was never lower than second in his last four races.

"This has been a long career for me, many years of fighting and hoping, racing and medals, which is now nearly over," he said.

After four sleds crashed during Saturday's first two heats, the final two runs were free of accidents, although several sleds came close to turning over.

Steve Holcomb, the top American pilot, was in fourth place after two runs, within striking distance of the podium. But he dropped one spot after the third run and then another spot to finish sixth, 1.29 seconds behind the winner.

"We did the best we could," Holcomb said. "Obviously, it wasn't enough."

John Napier (3:29.40) and Mike Kohn (3:28.78), at their first Olympics, finished 10th and 12th.

Napier grinned and held his thumb and index finger an inch apart to indicate how close he came to rolling his sled.

"I won't complain. I made a few mistakes," said Napier, a National Guard sergeant who hopes to join his unit in Afghanistan after the Olympics. "This is a driving track . . . and obviously I didn't play it perfect."

The competition did not include Beat Heft of Switzerland, the No. 1-ranked pilot, who suffered a concussion after a training crash last week. A crash Saturday night took Canada's Lyndon Rush, considered a medal favorite on his home track, out of contention.

The four-man competition is Friday and Saturday.

candy.thomson @baltsun.com

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