PREVIEW: HEATS 3 AND 4
At the midpoint, it's a tight battle between two German teams for the top spot.
At the midpoint, Friedrich has all of 0.03 seconds of breathing room.
Adding to the unpredictability of the final two heats: PyeongChang 2018 co-gold medalist Justin Kripps of Canada stands third after the first half. He's unlikely to gain the 0.38 seconds needed (to tie) for first place, but sports journalists 4 years ago probably made similar predictions.
The final German team, piloted by Christoph Hafer, ranks fourth — more than half a second off the lead, but with eight eyes laser-focused on the Canadians. If Hafer can boot Kripps from the podium position, he'll almost certainly hand Germany the second podium sweep of the Games.
In last: Poor Jamaica is in 28th place. The team may race only one heat tonight — the final run is exclusively for the top-20 teams — so savor the experience, and hope for cool runnings: The last time Jamaica had a four-man team was 24 years ago.
The original preview for the four-man competition, published earlier this week, is below. Read a full recap of the first pair of heats HERE.
ORIGINAL FOUR-MAN BOBSLED PREVIEW:
Almost all signs point to Germany's Francesco Friedrich as the 2022 Winter Olympics four-man champion.
The reigning gold medalist in this event, Friedrich – who goes by "Franz" or "Ice Kaiser," depending on your preference – just defended his two-man bobsled title earlier this week. If that's not enough, the German brings with him a decade's worth of world championship experience and titles –13 in all between mixed team, two-man, and four-man.
Friedrich has but two major stains on his otherwise immaculate record, and they both occurred at Sochi 2014: He placed sixth in the two-man race, and eighth in the four-man during his Olympic debut.
At this point, Sochi's practically ancient history. But Friedrich's third and fourth training heats this past week are a bit more concerning. While Friedrich placed first in Heat 1 and second in Heat 2 (behind countryman Christoph Hafer – more below), he landed ninth and then 25th in Heats 3 and 4, respectively. For the latter two runs, Friedrich started way back in the order and later complained that the ice had totally eroded; he also mentioned that he had reconfigured his bobsled, but didn't go into specifics.
That said, Germans have so much faith in Friedrich's ability to excel at the 2022 Winter Olympics that they selected the bobsledder as Opening Ceremony flagbearer. As of this writing, Germany has won seven of the eight contested sliding sport events at the 2022 Winter Olympics, sweeping luge and skeleton; there's no shortage of athletes deserving such an honor.
Barring some catastrophe, Friedrich is as sure a lock for gold as any athlete can be at these Games.
There are plenty of other bobsledders to keep an eye on – medal contenders, Americans, and even a team from Jamaica. Hafer, mentioned above, earned bronze during the two-man competition; he's likely to score the same-colored medal in this event. Meanwhile, Germany's Johannes Lochner, who has his own slew of world championship medals, claimed silver in the two-man. He'll probably finish second in four-man.
Del Duca, who finished 13th in the two-man race with bodybuilding pusher Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, will lead the likely stronger team. The U.S. Army serviceman became close friends with teammate Jimmy Reed at the University of Maine, where they were both track and field athletes. (Carlo Valdes and his mighty mustache complete the four-man lineup.) Del Duca later trained as a pusher behind the late Olympic gold medalist Steve Holcomb, but became a driver within 2 years. The 2022 Winter Olympics mark his Games debut.
Bobsled practically runs in Church's blood: A great-uncle raced in the 1948 Olympic Trials, and his father also sledded competitively. Church finished 27th in the two-man competition, backed by Charlie Volker. Pushers Kristopher Horn, Joshua Williamson, and Volker will complete the four-man crew.
Following the disastrous two-man experience, Volker took to social media to express his disappointment and look toward the upcoming race:
Perhaps the most compelling country on the roster: Jamaica, whose first Olympic four-man sled in 24 years will be driven by Shanwayne Stephens.
The comparisons to Jamaica's first four-man bobsled team, driven by Dudley Stokes at Calgary 1988 and later depicted in the Disney comedy "Cool Runnings" are undeniable – though Shanwayne insists "we're more than just a movie."
Added brakeman Nimroy Turgott: "We're the fire and ice, because we are from a tropical island with sunny temperatures, so we're going to the Olympics to melt the place!"
Stephens and Turgott finished dead-last in the two-man competition, bleeding 6.75 seconds from the lead before they were axed from the fourth heat (reserved exclusively for top-20 competitors).
Expect a similar result this time around.
Bobsled's two-man competition begins with Heats 1 and 2, Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET. Check the schedule HERE for full streaming and television details.