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Two Share Gold in Two-Man Bobsled

By John Kekis
Associated Press
Sunday, February 15, 1998; 2:35 p.m. EST

 Canada 1, with Pierre Lueders and Guenther Huber aboard, gave the nation its first two-man Olympic title when it tied with Italy for the gold. (File Photo)
NAGANO, Japan — Pierre Lueders and Guenther Huber gave their bobsled runners one last check, then looked up at each other thinking the same thought.

"Can you imagine if we tied this thing?'' Lueders said to his Italian rival. "It would be incredible.''

Huber nodded in agreement. Then both men smiled as they prepared for the race of their lives.

The start area usually is a quiet place where teams try to iron out the last kinks, where they always keep to themselves. But something special was in the frosty air on this Sunday night in the Japanese Alps, and these two friends knew it.

After three runs and almost three miles of hellbent sliding down the snakelike Spiral course, only three-hundredths of a second — inches — separated their two-man sleds in the race for gold.

Just to get to this point, on the Pacific Rim on this icy evening, their lives had taken some turns.

The 27-year-old Lueders, whose parents emigrated to Canada from Germany 40 years ago, had taken up bobsledding only nine years ago. Six years ago, he became the only driver in history to win the first World Cup race he entered. And he beat the great Swiss driver Gustav Weder, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, to do it.

Huber, at 32 an old man in a younger man's sport, grew up in the Dolomite Alps of northern Italy and was destined to join his three sliding brothers in luge. He did — but then switched to bobsled.

Both have miserable memories of the Lillehammer Olympics four years ago. Huber had stood second in two-man after three runs, the silver medal within his grasp. He faded to 11th. Lueders finished seventh in two-man and 11th in four-man.

In Nagano, their drive to history started on Saturday afternoon. Huber, nicknamed "The Professor'' because of the sharp driving skills he developed in luge, had outraced Lueders in the first heat by a slim five-hundredths of a second, and the Canadians had to play catchup.

It wasn't easy. On the second run, Lueders made up only one hundredth. Ditto for the third.

Now came the fourth.

First went Lueders in Canada 1. The pressure fell on the broad shoulders of his brakeman, 6-foot, 225-pound Dave MacEachern. He had to be sure their bright yellow fiberglass-and-steel sled didn't slip out of the grooves in the ice when he hopped in the back to begin the run.

The burly Lueders, almost a carbon copy of his 30-year-old partner in stature, jumped in first after his always-ferocious start. MacEachern followed, becoming almost weightless as he settled lightly inside.

They quickly dropped out of sight, MacEachern hunched over and tucked tightly behind Lueders, his helmet buried in Lueders' back as they began to pick up speed.

Through the serpentine swirls of the course they went. Uphill. Downhill. Uphill again. Then it was over: 54.24 seconds. The fastest time of the run so far.

Now it was time for the diminutive Huber and his brakeman, Antonio Tartaglia. Their start slower, they were second before the fifth turn, then tied with Lueders halfway down.

Somewhere in the final four turns, Huber lost his edge.

As he pulled up at the finish house, Huber saw the Canadians jumping up and down.

"When I saw them jumping up, I knew something had happened,'' the Italian said.

"Then I started counting.''

The clock read 54.27 seconds. When the counting was done, the incredible was clear: In four runs over two days, through 60 mind-numbing turns at speeds over 80 miles an hour, the two teams had finished in the same time: 3 minutes, 37.24 seconds.

A tie for the gold.

There had been only one other tie before in bobsled, when the great Eugenio Monti tied Horst Floth of Germany in two-man at Grenoble in 1968. But the judges awarded the 40-year-old Monti the gold because he had the fastest heat time.

That race caused a change in the rules. And so this time the gold was shared — Italy had its first bobsled gold since that race 30 years ago, and Canada had its first two-man Olympic title.

To Lueders, it was fitting.

"I would have been very disappointed had it not been this way,'' he said. "I would have been very satisfied to finish second, and I wouldn't really have felt all that comfortable winning by a hundredth.''

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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