-- U.S. bobsledder Todd Hays spun his head around as soon as his four-man sled reached the finish of Sunday's bobsled World Cup at Verizon Sports Complex, looking for teammates in the sled he was driving. He had no idea if anybody was still back there.
Only Pavle Jovanovic remained after a wild ride in which the sled crashed twice, flipped over and eventually righted itself, sputtering to disqualification in a major international race. The two men in the back of the four-man sled, Steve Mesler and Garrett Hines, flew out near the top of the track, but suffered no major injuries.
The spectacular crash left one of the world's most accomplished teams dazed and disappointed, though remarkably intact physically. Hays's team began the day in second place behind the eventual victors, a Russian sled piloted by Alexandr Zoubkov. The team had a shot to move into the overall World Cup lead with just a second-place finish Sunday. Instead, the sled earned no World Cup points.
"That might not be the last time I crash," said Hays, who won the silver medal in the four-man event at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. "We're going to try to take it to the edge. This is an Olympic year."
Hays said he steered the sled too aggressively near the top of the course, trying to make up the 0.16-second advantage Zoubkov had after the day's first run. The sled banged around briefly before overturning just after Turn 3. Hines, who sits in the last seat and operates the sled's brake, shot out almost immediately. He slid down the track on his back.
His uniform was shredded around his left elbow.
About three turns later, Mesler wiggled himself free and bailed out, too. Once one man is ejected from the sled, the run is disqualified, so Mesler said he saw no point in risking the bumpy ride down.
"You could tell something was funny," Mesler said. "You could tell something was a little different. The next thing you know, the train's wrecked and you're looking up and seeing ice."
Crashes are rare among the top drivers, but another star, Switzerland's Martin Annen, also crashed this weekend, sending his two-man sled upside down in Saturday's races. Sliders say this track is a challenging one, providing an advantage to the sport's most skilled drivers but also contributing to a fair number of mishaps on the track.
Hays, who is considered one of the world's best, said he hadn't crashed in about three years and shrugged off the day's disastrous run. The team will race again next week in Turin, Italy, the site of the 2006 Winter Games.
"I needed to make up [time]," he said. "You can't do that driving a safe line. I went for the other line and landed on my head. That's racing."
The ride was so poor, Hays said, he briefly considered trying to flip the sled again as it crossed the line.
"I thought it would be nice to have a victory roll at the finish," he said, grinning. "But at that point I was too tired."
"Sometimes you fall down," Jovanovic said. "We were trying to win the race. Sometimes when you're [driving] on the edge, you're either winning or crashing. . . . You just get back up and race again. These things happen."