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Strong Germans not up to speed in Olympic bobsled

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 8:36 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
The team from Germany GER-2, piloted by Thomas Florschuetz and brakeman Kevin Kuske, start their third run during the men's two-man bobsled competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Kevin Kuske was angry. Time to lock the doors, and hide the kids.

Shortly after leaving the track, Kuske, Germany's hulking, 6-foot-5, muscles-bulging-from-muscles brakeman who has pushed his way to four Olympic gold medals, summed up the startling state of his country's bobsled program.

Slow.

In German, "langsam."

"If in 2010 we were sitting in a Formula One car, then this time we were sitting in a Trabby," Kuske said, referring to the boxy automobile mass produced by communist East Germany in the 1970s. "It's definitely an equipment issue."

BMW's bobsled engineers probably swallowed their pencils.

The gold standard in men's bobsled, Germany isn't shining in Sochi.

Not only were the Germans shut out of a medal in the two-man competition on Monday night for just the second time since 1964, they finished eighth, 11th and 15th.

It was Germany's worst showing since 1956 and the woeful performance was followed by several athletes questioning everything from their sleds to the team's relationship with its bobsled federation.

"It is not that we didn't win a medal, it's how we lost the medal," Germany-1 driver Francesco Friedrich said. "Finishing 8th, 11th and 15th is almost embarrassing."

On a night when Russia's Alexander Zubkov dissected the ice on the Sanki Sliding Center track to win gold, making four nearly perfect runs down a circuit he's driven close to 400 times, the Germans were a non-factor.

That almost never happens.

Since bobsled's introduction in 1924 at the Chamonix Games, the Germans have essentially ruled the Olympic tracks. They've won 37 medals in men's Olympic bobsled and came to Russia having won the past three golds in two-man, with Kuske pushing for Andre Lange in 2006 and 2010.

But even before they got here there were warning signs the Germans weren't up to speed. They had an inconsistent World Cup season in two-man, with Friedrich's two second-place finishes — both in Germany — the nation's only podium placements.

During training at the Sanki track, the Germans didn't post fast times and as each sled finished its run down the 17-curve course, Germany's coaches, press attaches and even media members looked quizzically at the scoreboard wondering what was wrong with one of the world's bobsled powers.

"We didn't have the greatest confidence coming into the competition," Germany-3 driver Maximilian Arndt said. "We were out of our comfort zone."

Kuske saw it coming.

After Sunday's final training heats, the five-time Olympic medal winner predicted failure.

"The 'wheels' are not sliding, we are getting our (butts) kicked at the bottom of the track," he said. "We didn't make it today, and we will not make it tomorrow."

While Germany's luge team dominated, sweeping four events, the bobsledders are plodding along. The German women are expected to be in the medal mix, but even some of their training times haven't been the norm for them.

Still, there's one event left, the four-man, for the German men to restore pride and show they're still among the sliding supremacy. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend Sunday's race, one of the signature events at any games, to see if Zubkov can win gold again.

The Germans can't bear the thought.

"In the two-man we haven't performed well the entire season but, in the four-man, we know what we are capable of performing," Arndt said. "We are highly motivated to smash the party for the Russians."

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