U.S. Bobsledder Hopes 4th Olympics Is a Charm
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 1997; Page B5
Yet he is back for his fourth Winter Games this February in Nagano, accompanied by his usual gold medal hopes. This time, however, Shimer, 35, intends to take home something more satisfying than embarrassment.
In three Olympics, he has never won a medal. Shimer and former NFL star Herschel Walker attracted plenty of attention as a two-man team in 1992, but they finished seventh, a result that left Shimer furious. In his first Olympics in 1988, Shimer's four-man team finished two-hundredths of a second out of medal contention.
And in the past Olympic Games in 1994, Shimer's four-man team was disqualified because the runners on their sled were too warm, exceeding the allowable temperature by .9 degrees Celsius. (A sled will go faster on too-warm runners.) Their sled was the only one ever banished from Olympic competition for such a violation.
"I was in a state of shock," Shimer said in Salt Lake City recently. "I remember walking down the track and not believing this is the Olympic Games and I've been disqualified. From that moment on, I don't remember much."
Much of what Shimer does remember, he would sooner ignore. Besides the four-man calamity, he also finished 13th in the two-man competition in the '94 Games.
"It's just something I want to put behind me and just forget about," Shimer said.
Shimer, a former wide receiver and running back at Morehead (Ky.) State University, gets a fresh chance this year.
Last season was the best of his 10-year career. He won five World Cup medals, and bronze medals in the world championship two-man (with Rob Olesen) and the four-man with Olesen, Chip Minton and Randy Jones.
Shimer was the only driver to medal in both events. In this season's World Cup standings, Shimer is third in combined two-man and four-man points behind Canada's Pierre Lueders and Italy's Guenther Huber. Behind Shimer is German star Christoph Langen, considered the world's best bobsledder.
Shimer has entered the Olympics in prime position before. His four-man team had won the World Cup title in 1993, the year before the disqualification in Lillehammer, Norway.
"I thought my team got a little complacent going into the Olympic Games" in 1994, Shimer said. "A lot of it was my fault. We weren't going as fast as the year before. We won the World Cup the previous year. We thought we were just going to come in and clean up."
Talking about past failures seems painful for Shimer, who is exceedingly happy to talk about almost anything else. He is marrying ice skater Sophia Eliazova after the Olympics. He laughs about the fact he doesn't have a full-time job outside of bobsledding and therefore barely can make his $370 truck payments each month. (He said he does receive a U.S. Olympic Committee annual grant of about $8,000.)
During the 1993 world championships, Shimer brazenly wore a plea for sponsorship on his helmet, a piece of tape that said: "Your Logo Here."
Since moving to Lake Placid, N.Y. in the summer of 1996 to utilize the training facilities there, Shimer and his U.S. teammates believe they are ready to win the first U.S. bobsled Olympic medal in 41 years. It's been 49 years since the Americans won gold in the event.
Perhaps for that reason, bobsledders don't get much attention in the United States.
"I'm upset that the Jamaican bobsled team seems more popular in this country than we are," said Minton. "It's probably our fault, for not winning a medal in the last Olympics. ... We're ready to get on the ice and get it on. I think we are going to take a medal. We are the best athletes in the world."
The U.S. sledders seem happy with their equipment, high-tech Bo-Dyn sleds that have been designed and refined with the input of NASCAR racing star Geoff Bodine. Though a relatively new venture, the Bo-Dyn sleds are considered on par or better than the other bobsleds around the world.
"The equipment," Shimer said, "is definitely not going to be an excuse this year."
Among Shimer's problems in 1992 were sled runners that did not meet specifications. Shimer stayed up much of the night fixing the runners before the last day of racing in La Plagne, France.
An additional problem was practice time. Because Walker played with the Minnesota Vikings rather than compete on the World Cup circuit in the fall of 1991, he and Shimer had little time together to prepare. (Bobsledders are now required to race during the World Cup season to qualify for the Olympics.) Walker's push was poor on the first day of competition, and he and Shimer could never recover.
"It was too little, too late," Shimer said. "If Herschel and I could have had more competitions together and pushed together more, no doubt we would have had a medal. ... I always look back at La Plagne as one in my hands that I let slip away."
Shimer hopes his problems are over. Bad karma seemed to follow him out of the 1994 Games as he broke his toe in the '95 world championships. In his first World Cup race of 1996, he pulled a groin muscle. But last season's results, and an early World Cup victory this season (a four-man win Nov. 30 in Germany) suggest Shimer and his U.S. teammates are ready really ready this winter.
"We have the best drivers, the best athletes and the best equipment," U.S. coach Steve Maiorca said.
For once, the Americans would like the best results.
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