TWO-MAN BOBSLED HEATS 1 AND 2 (OF 4):
- Francesco Friedrich/Thorsten Margis, GER, 1:58:38
- Johannes Lochner/Florian Bauer, GER, (+0.15)
- Rostislav Gaitiukevich/Aleksey Laptev, ROC, (+0.94)
WATCH FULL EVENT REPLAYS: HEATS 1 AND 2
At the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, pilot Francesco Friedrich and pusher Thorsten Margis tied Canada's Justin Kripps and Alexander Kopacz in a rare dead heat for gold.
This time, bobsledding might experience something almost as exceptional: a podium sweep. Germany's gold medal favorites Friedrich/Margis – the defending champions in both the two- and four-man events – are only 0.15 seconds ahead of compatriots Johannes Lochner and Florian Bauer. Still, both duos are comfortably ahead of third-standing Russian Olympic Committee's Rostislav Gaitiukevich and Aleksey Laptev by more than half a second. The ROC team leads Germany's Christoph Hafer and Matthias Sommer by only 0.05 seconds with two heats to go.
As anticipated, 2021-22 World Cup winner Friedrich was ready for almost every curve while driving his first heat on the Yanqing National Sliding Centre's highly technical and tricky Xiaohaituo Bobsled and Luge Track, nicknamed "The Dragon." But he scraped some tight turns during the second run, leaving his lead on a razor's edge. Lochner may have been just a touch slower, but his heats were more consistent.
Below fourth place: a logjam of teams, including two Canadian pairs, all within half a second of one another.
The United States' two pairs experienced mixed results, but they managed the tough course. In particular, former track star Frank Del Duca and bodybuilding pusher Hakeem Abdul-Saboor excelled. Del Duca pinballed against the ice walls toward the end of Heat 1, but still crossed the finish line in under a minute. Though he started faster in his second run, Del Duca finished his second heat 0.35 seconds slower, ultimately placing 15th at the midpoint.
It'll be harder for driver Hunter Church and partner Charlie Volker to crack the top 20. After two heats, they stand in 28th place. Church required surgery on his left toe this past year, which cut down on his ability to practice. Still, he seemed happy with his run, screaming into an unsuspecting camera: "Happy Valentine's Day, Courtney!"
Church was 0.80 seconds above the last-place team. To close out Heat 1, Jamaican pilot Shanwayne Stephens and pusher Nimroy Turgott experienced a gnarly collision at the "Dragon's Tail" – the 13th of the track's 16 curves, and the sharpest – then almost tipped over. Though their team averted disaster, Jamaica ended in 30th place and a full 4.20 seconds off the lead.