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Olympics / Sports

Cunningham has medal hopes in two-man bobsled

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia -- A guy from Monterey, Calif., would like to turn the Sochi Games into the Nick at Night show when the two-man bobsled competition begins Sunday at the Sanki Sliding Center.

Nick Cunningham, a former Monterey High track star, is ready to regain his early-season magic as three American sleds are ranked among the world's top six.

Steven Holcomb of Salt City Lake has the top-ranked sled after the World Cup season. Cory Butner, of Yucaipa, Calif., is fifth, Cunningham sixth.

"It's nice when all three U.S. sleds are in the top 10," Cunningham said after training runs here. "We're where we want to be."

Actually, where Cunningham, 28, hopes to be after the two-day event is on the medal stand with some of his teammates to break a couple longstanding droughts.

The Americans have not won an Olympic medal in two-man bobsled since 1952. They haven't won a gold medal in 78 years.

"We're here for one reason--to win medals," Cunningham said. "We're happy and honored to be called Olympians but this is a business trip."

The usually jovial Cunningham sounded hyper focused a day before the competition. He's also competing in the four-man event next weekend.

But this season, Americans have been much more successful in the smaller two-man sleds.

The U.S. team has found success using new BMW-designed sleds. Holcomb won five of the eight two-man races this season. Cunningham won a silver and two bronzes during the North American portion of the World Cup season but struggled on European tracks.

The Russians have a real home advantage, having trained more than any team on the new track in the Caucasus Mountains. Course experience makes a huge difference in a sport where margins of victory are measured in tenths of a second.

Russian drivers Alexander Zubkov and Alexander Kasjanov were either first or second in three of the six training runs before Sunday's start. The host country didn't even bother practicing Saturday.

Switzerland's Beat Hefti, ranked No. 2 in the World Cup standings, also won two training runs, while fourth-ranked German Francesco Friedrich was fastest once.

The usually confident Holcomb didn't sound sure of himself Saturday after training runs.

"It is very confusing, you see some sleds hit in places and it doesn't slow them down and others will have a good looking run and are slow," he told reporters. "There is not much that I can do now, we are racing tomorrow and I am just going to drive the lines that I have been driving."

The closest the United States came to breaking the two-man streak came in 2002 in Salt Lake City when an American sled finished fourth. The top finish four years later in Turin, Italy, was sixth, while the Americans were seventh in Vancouver.

But Holcomb ended a 62-year drought in the four-man competition in Vancouver by driving his crew to victory.

Cunningham is trying not to let any distractions bother him. The biggest issue is the warm temperatures that have persisted throughout the first week of the games.

"It's 65 degrees," he said. "That's a summer sport to most people."

The Americans aren't changing their plans despite the weather.

"On this track anything is possible," Cunningham added. "People are going to win and lose very very quickly. You make a mistake it is very hard to pick that time back up."

(c)2014 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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