This could be the most uncertain Olympic bobsled competition in some time.
The most wide open, too.
In 2014, it was widely expected that Russia would be tough to beat in the two- and four-man races. And it was, with Alexandr Zubkov winning gold in both events, only to have those medals stripped as part of the fallout from the state-sponsored doping program that has left a giant cloud over what the home team did at the Sochi Games.
In 2010, Steven Holcomb and his famed “Night Train” sled lived up to expectations and finally ended the Americans’ 62-year gold medal drought in the Olympic four-man race. In 2006, Andre Lange of Germany was the consensus pick to pull off the daunting double — gold in both events — and he delivered.
Zubkov is now banned. Holcomb died last year. Lange has long been retired.
So this year in Pyeongchang, a new men’s Olympic bobsled driving star will have to emerge. Germany, Canada, Latvia, Switzerland and the U.S. all will head to these Olympics believing they have a realistic chance of reaching the medal podium, and so will the host South Koreans, though they would still seem to be a longshot.
The women’s bobsled race is much easier to figure out, even with 20 sleds. Five drivers are the only ones with realistic medal shots:
Canada’s Kaillie Humphries is chasing her third straight gold medal. Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser of the U.S. won silver and bronze, respectively, in 2014 and German drivers Mariama Jamanka and Stephanie Schneider have also worked their way toward the top of the world rankings.
Here’s some things to know going into the bobsled competitions in Pyeongchang:
Germany in men’s bobsled, the U.S. and Canada in women’s bobsled.
They’re friends, but that doesn’t stop Canada’s Kaillie Humphries and U.S. star Elana Meyers Taylor from also being rivals. They finished first and second, respectively, in Sochi, and Humphries is going for her third straight gold. Another wrinkle in this cold war of sorts: Todd Hays, the longtime U.S. bobsledder and coach, is now helping coach the Canadians.
Codie Bascue and Evan Weinstock are two sliders that the U.S. program has pointed to for years as future cornerstones of the program. Their time is now. Pyeongchang marks the Olympic debuts for Bascue, a pilot, and Weinstock, who teammates boldly predict will go down as the best push athlete in U.S. history.
ULTIMATE SLIDING MACHINES
They don’t handle like race cars, but there’s race-car technology at play in bobsledding. BMW works with several national teams, including the U.S., Germany and Canada, among others — with all the programs done separately. Ferrari works with the Italians, and McLaren was part of the British bobsled program in recent years.
In all three sliding sports, Curve 9 will likely decide the whole race. There are other tricky spots on the Pyeongchang track, but chances are high that the driver who gets through that turn the best over four runs will reach the medal podium.
Most bobsledders will likely take part in the opening ceremony, but then everyone waits around for more than a week before competition starts. Bobsled goes last in the Olympic sliding program, after luge and skeleton. There are no medals awarded in bobsled until Day 10 of the games (and the women don’t even start competing until Day 11).
As with many other sliding sports, the difference at the Olympics as opposed to the World Cup circuit is that races are four heats over two days, instead of two heats in one day.
The two-man race might be completely wide open after six drivers combined to win the first seven World Cup events this season.
Canada’s Chris Spring, an Australian-born bobsledder, survived a frightening crash in Germany six years ago and now is one of the biggest medal threats in Pyeongchang.
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org