LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - In second place with one run to go, Todd Hays, America’s best bobsled driver, took the fastest — and riskiest — path to the finish line during the World Cup four-man race Sunday in an attempt to catch the leading Russian sled.
It didn’t work. The sled tipped. Two teammates bailed out and skidded on the ice. The sled kept moving and Hays, after ducking under the protective front cowling, righted it. Then the sled crashed again, and again Hays got it back on its runners. He and No. 2 man Pavle Jovanovich crossed the finish line but got no credit for it. Drivers must finish with whom they started. The crash meant no World Cup medal for Hays, who fully expected to add to his twoman bronze won with Jovanovich on Saturday. The Russian sled, driven by Alexandr Zoubkov, was first, followed by Germany’s Andre Lange and Italy’s Simone Bertazzo. Americans Steve Holcomb and Mike Kohn finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Hays took full blame for the crash, saying he straightened his runners too quickly coming out of the third curve in an attempt to pick up speed on a slowing track. He didn’t apologize. More important than that curve, Hays seemed to say, was his learning curve with the 2006 Olympic Games three months away. “We’re going to try to take it to the edge. This is an Olympic year,” Hays said. “My intentions this year are trying to learn something every race in order to improve for the Olympics. I want to make mistakes, I want to do the wrong thing so that when I get to the Olympics I can have it all figured out.” Hays was not hurt in the crash. Neither were Jovanovich nor the teammates who left the sled in acts of self-preservation. “You’re halfway out by that point, so you kick and squirm until you get out,” said Steve Mesler, who ejected along with brakeman Garrett Hines, whose sleeve was torn off. Snug in the No. 2 position behind Hays, Jovanovich decided to hang on. He and Hays chuckled about it afterward, but bobsled crashes are always scary. “You put the death grip on your handles and hang on for dear life,” Jovanovich said. Luckily, the crash happened early — the course is 20 curves long — so the sled hadn’t reached full speed, which is about 85 mph. Hays said the last time he wrecked during an event was three or four years ago. “Any time you crash in a race, especially with one of the best drivers in the world like Todd, it’s a weird thing,” Mesler said. Hays’ sled took a hit — it should be repaired by the next World Cup race in two weeks — but Hays’ chances to make the U.S. Olympic team have not. Still, he lost his safety net. The team will be picked from the points standings after five World Cup races, and drivers are allowed to drop one race. For Hays, the crash is the second bizarre mishap in 10 months. In January, a sled runner skewered his foot during the start of a World Cup race on the Olympic track near Turin. Hays needed emergency surgery to repair the damage and lost three months of racing and training at the end of last season. The sport has been mostly good to Hays, 36. In the 2002 Olympics he won the four-man silver medal, ending a 46-year medal drought in U.S. men’s bobsled. Now his eyes are set on gold, even if it means more mishaps between now and then. “I’m really not worried about anything except trying to win a gold medal,” he said. “If I chop my foot off or crash the sled, or whatever, as long as we’re trying to get better at it, I’m either going to win or get hurt trying.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0259 or firstname.lastname@example.org