Army Sgt. Nick Cunningham pilots a training run at the Sanki Sliding Center on Day 7 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA — The U.S. men’s bobsled team is taking an advanced class on the Winter Olympics course at the Sanki Sliding Center — two minutes at a time.
Two more training runs on Friday meant two more minutes of two-man bobsled intel for Steven Holcomb and the Americans.
Holcomb, and Army veteran and the reigning Olympic gold medalist in four-man bobsled, said a training heat crash earlier in the day by women’s pilot Elana Meyers showed the quickened pace of fact gathering by teams.
“It’s part of the sport, it happens,” said Holcomb, who finished fifth (:56.69) and fourth (:56.98) among 30 teams on two runs. “You push it to the edge, and you know, we crashed a couple times this year. You’re trying to find speed and you only have six runs.
“If you think about it, we only have six minutes to figure it out before race day, so you’re doing what you have to do to find what works and what doesn’t.”
Those crashes came in the middle of the World Cup series just after the start of the new year, once during a training run and again during a race — when they had been making upgrades to their famous “Night Train 2” sled.
“We’d been trying out some new things to try and make it faster,” says Holcomb’s brakeman, Army Capt. Chris Fogt.
The pair of runs Friday — all lasting just under a minute along the 17-turn course — allowed two-man teams to fine-tune technique and strategy before runs conducted Sunday and Monday determine medals.
Holcomb guided the U.S. four-man team to gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, his country’s first trip to the top of the podium in that event since 1948.
Army Sgt. Nick Cunningham, doing practice runs in the USA-2 two-man bobsled, said it’s critical to make valuable use of limited time on the track. He clocked times of :56.74 (6th) and :57.02 (7th).
“To be able to come here and have all three of us testing different setups is nice because we all are within medal striking distance and can share and collaborate about what works,” said Cunningham, a member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. “We are narrowing it down to what the best setup is for this track and these conditions, and so far it’s been great. I had two runs in the top (seven) today, and they weren’t my best runs.
“I made some crucial errors, and that gives me confidence because I know I can still make up some time and speed.”
Miller writes for the Des Moines Register.