CALGARY, FEB. 27 -- The U.S. bobsled team is poised for the utterly unexpected Sunday, a shot at an Olympic medal, as its top four-man team lies fifth in seedings after two strong runs today.
Driver Brent Rushlaw's sled posted a combined, two-race time of 1:54.39, putting the Americans behind only East Germany's top team, which leads the competition, a Soviet sled and two Swiss teams going into Sunday's final two runs.
U.S. Coach Jeff Jost said the high placement, combined with an advantageous draw on Sunday, means Rushlaw only needs to "do what he did today," to be in contention for a medal.
The United States has not taken a medal in four-man bobsled since winning the bronze in 1956 at Cortina, Italy.
Nor was it expected to contend here. But Rushlaw's team put together back-to-back runs of 56.72 and 57.67 seconds to stay less than a second off the pace in the 26-sled field.
East Germany's top sled, driven by defending Olympic champion Wolfgang Hoppe, posted runs of 56.16 and 57.31 for a total of 1:53.47, which is 92 one-hundredths of a second faster than Rushlaw's. Soviet Ianis Kipours' sled was second at 1:54.00 and the two Swiss sleds posted times of 1:54.20 and 1:54.30.
Medals are awarded on total time elapsed over all four runs.
Jost said Rushlaw's Sunday placements -- 16th to start in the first heat and third in the second heat -- give him a good chance to improve his position. Bobsled tracks lose speed as the ice gets torn up by racers, and Jost was particularly happy with Rushlaw's No. 3 start in the final race, considering the American's sled performed well today starting 11th and 24th.
The coach said a medal would be the best antidote to the bickering and sniping that have plagued the bobsled team for six weeks as members fought over whether a late arrival, football star Willie Gault, should race on one of the two competing sleds or stay on the noncompeting, No. 3 team.
Gault stayed on the sidelines today, ending the dispute, and Matt Roy's No. 2 sled was off the pace, finishing 17th.
Rushlaw, 36, who is in his fourth Olympics, kept his own counsel after the competition, but Roy said all he has to do Sunday is "drive like he did today and get some luck."
"He just has to hope someone else falters and nothing bad happens to him," said Roy.
Jost said Rushlaw and his team of Hal Hoye, Michael Wasko and William White made one mistake in the second run, steering out of No. 8 turn early, which cost speed and accounts in part for the slower time than his first run.
But Jost said the error didn't bother Rushlaw. "He's driving good; he's in the groove. His head's in the right place and nothing is bothering him.
"We'll have the advantage with the draw" on Sunday," Jost added. "Rushlaw has a way of rising to the occasion. It's looking real good right now."
Still, Rushlaw must overcome formidable opposition to rise in the ranks. Hoppe won both two-man and four-man competition for East Germany in the 1984 Olympics at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia; Kipours' sled won the two-man races here this week; and the two Swiss sleds are considered the fastest non-Eastern bloc entries in the competition.