Reporting from Whistler, Canada — This will be the heavyweight championship of sliding sports, two drivers at the top of their game manhandling 1,400-pound rockets that want to go airborne and flip upside down.
The reigning four-man bobsled champion is the most decorated pilot in the sport's history. The challenger holds the world title.
They like and respect each other, like World War I aces who dipped their wings in salute before dueling to the death.
Germany's Andre Lange is the man to beat.
Steve Holcomb thinks his USA-1 entry is the sled for the job.
Over the next two days, they will test each other -- four runs, fastest man wins.
The competition already has had a brush with the headlines. On Wednesday night, police detained and questioned Bill Schuffenhauer, a 2002 silver medalist and a pusher on USA-3, after a brief altercation with a woman believed to be his fiancee. Schuffenhauer was released and competed in training runs Thursday morning, but he declined to answer questions.
The U.S. hasn't won a gold medal in 62 years, since Francis Tyler steered his way down the track in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The Americans made a run in 2002, finishing second and third. At the top of the podium? Lange.
Unlike the World Cup circuit, in which drivers have years to hone their skills and establish driving lines on the same tracks, Holcomb and other competitors will have to tap their knowledge from about 40 runs on the Whistler track; the Canadians have had hundreds.
"This is a sport where you need repetition to excel. I don't blame them. I think they're scared of the Americans climbing over their fence and stealing all their medals. I would be scared, too," Holcomb said, a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.
Those eyes nearly kept Holcomb from being here. During the 2000-01 season, he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. Lasik surgery didn't stop the vision loss, and Holcomb soon ran out of strong contact-lens prescriptions.
After having his retirement plans rejected by U.S. Coach Brian Shimer, Holcomb turned to a Beverly Hills doctor and a procedure not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
"I pretty much had nothing to lose," Holcomb said. "I was going to go blind one way or the other. It pretty much came down to retire from bobsled and lose my sight eventually, or have the procedure and maybe go blind anyway."
In a 10-minute procedure, the doctor inserted a contact lens inside each eye, giving Holcomb 20-20 vision.
A year later, he was world champion.
Before retiring, Lange is looking for four more remarkable runs in a career bookmarked with wins and paved in gold.
NBC analyst John Morgan, who has seen all but one of Lange's World Cup races, calls him a machine.
"People are born with bobsled talent, but then you have to execute on it," said Morgan, a bobsledder in the 1970s. "He's just better than everyone else, and everyone else is chasing him."
"You watch him and he makes mistakes like everyone else, but he corrects them. Everyday I watch his video and I learn something," he said.
Holcomb has the best pushers and, perhaps, the fastest sled.
Lange has the experience "and wants to go out with a bang," Holcomb said. "I'm not going to let him win by any means, and he's not going to let me win."