WHISTLER, British Columbia — Round one of the bobsled wars goes to Germany's Andre Lange, who made history by winning the two-man competition on an increasingly controversial track at the base of Blackcomb Mountain.
Driver Lange and brakeman Kevin Kuske beat countrymen Thomas Florschuetz and Richard Adjei to win by .22 seconds. The victory makes Lange four-for-four in Olympic bobsled racing, with a gold medal in each of the four events he has driven.
Lange is the most-decorated bobsled driver in the history of the event, which began in the Olympics at the Lake Placid Games in 1932.
But the win merely set the table for the larger battle to come — the four-man bobsled showdown between Lange and U.S. driver Steven Holcomb, the reigning world champion in the four-man and a serious threat to Lange's perfect record.
"The Germans had something we didn't. We have one more event we're going to dominate in," said Holcomb, who finished sixth in the two-man contest along with brakeman Curt Tomasevicz.
Lange, 36, is racing his last season and badly wants to go out with his perfect record intact. But Holcomb's jet-black "Night Train Express" sled and its crew have gotten the better of the Germans — and the rest of the world — this season, and are primed to be spoilers.
He'll have to do it on a track that proved once again to be among the most challenging, and perhaps dangerous, in the world. Four crashes marred the first two runs of competition Saturday. Two Swiss sleds were forced to withdraw because of injuries to crewmen.
Sleds from the Netherlands and Poland came close to overturning, and a half-dozen other sleds had difficulty negotiating the course's infamous "50-50" curve (actually curve 13), named for the odds drivers assign to getting through it safely.
Both USA 2 and USA 3, driven by John Napier and Mike Kohn, respectively, had trouble with that curve, both lurching on their sides and nearly flipping.
"If you've ever driven a car and broken away on ice, that's what it feels like going through there," Kohn said.
Napier finished 10th; Kohn 12th.
The high number of crashes on the track, where a luge racer from Georgia died in a training accident Feb. 12, has fanned ongoing controversy about the design.
Kohn, 37, said the high number of crashes were a direct result of track officials limiting access to the track to all but Canadian sliders.
"I've been asking to get on this track for two years," he said. "I came here with zero runs."
Training on a difficult track at Lake Placid, N.Y., makes U.S. drivers more prepared for the Whistler track, he said. But many countries don't share that advantage. "If we wait until the Olympics and let them go down, then you're asking for trouble," Kohn said.