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Not So Hot
Sandy Bailey
March 07, 1994
Overly warm runners left the U.S. bobsled team out in the cold
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March 07, 1994

Not So Hot

Overly warm runners left the U.S. bobsled team out in the cold

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The hit movie of the Olympics, which packed 'em in in downtown Lillehammer, was Cool Runnings, which is based on the story of the Jamaican bobsled team and its unlikely foray into the Olympic spotlight in Calgary back in 1988. That yarn is always good for a few laughs.

Up the mountain in Hunderfossen, another Olympic bobsled comedy closed Sunday to considerably less favorable reviews. Chris Coleman's USA-1 sled crawled down the hill and finished 15th, behind even the real-life Jamaicans—whose team included brothers Dudley and Nelson Stokes, the models for the main characters in the movie. Then came the real farce, as things went even worse for the USA-2 crew. Cue the laugh track and call this one Hot Runnings.

After all the fanfare about this being the Olympics at which the U.S. would earn its first bobsled medal since 1956—thanks to the technological innovations of NASCAR-driver-turned-sled-designer Geoff Bodine—USA-2 was disqualified Sunday for having overheated its runners in an electric blanket. That left the American bobbers with their worst finish ever and with the distinction of being the only team ever thrown out of an Olympics for hot runners. "It's not a matter of cheating," said David Kurtz, the U.S. team leader. "We definitely took some risk and pressed the limits as far as we could."

That would be 0.9� Celsius too far. The runners on the $500,000 Bo-Dyn sled were found to be just that much warmer than the allowable limit, a standard established because, as Kurtz said, "there's no question warm runners go faster on ice."

How could this happen in a sport in which every silly millimeter is so important that USA-2 driver Brian Shimer had had these very runners express-mailed in on Friday because they were just the thing for the ultracold weather? U.S. team spokesmen were blaming everything from the temperature gauges, which they claimed—with no evidence to support them—were faulty, to the warming sunshine. "It was a technical error of Biblical proportions," said one U.S. Olympic bobsled official.

No one was blaming Shinier, the former World Cup four-man champ who struggled in the Lillehammer Games, for trying to heat the blades. That was the work of his coaches. But two weeks ago Shimer did replace his brakeman the day before the two-man competition, having suspected him of being too slow afoot. He still could finish no better than 13th. He then showed up last Saturday for the four-man start in a new Bo-Dyn sled with the new $5,000 runners attached. Said Shimer of the blades that had been specially made in Dresden, Germany, "I haven't even tested them yet. Let's go out on a limb and try for a medal."

Sunday the limb broke. "It doesn't seem like anything has gone right," said Shinier.

With that he was gone, followed by a much happier Dudley Stokes, who went home to resume piloting not a sled but a tourist helicopter. Of the ignominy of placing behind the Jamaicans, U.S. sledder Jeff Woodard said, "It had to happen to somebody. Why not the Americans?"

And why not like this? In Cool Runnings the character played by John Candy finds redemption coaching the Jamaicans after he has been stripped of his own gold medals for cheating. In Hot Runnings the rule violation was billed as just having played things too close to the line. "It's like trying to put a fastball past Joe Carter in the last game of the World Series," Kurtz said. He didn't need to say what a disaster that was, too

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