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There was Howard Siler at the bottom of the Lake Placid bobsled run last Saturday: red team parka, red warmup pants, red moon boots and gloves—and a beauty of a fresh red wound high on the bridge of his nose. The laceration bristled with black surgical thread. He looked cross-eyed momentarily, as if trying to see the wound, and said, "I like anything, anything that's fast and dangerous."
At that moment, while some 6,000 spectators shivered along the bob run, Siler was giving off a sense of exhilaration as if it were heat. The 34-year-old insurance executive from Brushton, N.Y., 6' and 200 easy, had just driven the No. 2 U.S. two-man sled to fifth place in the 1980 Games, the highest American finish in the bob since 1956. That wasn't all. Behind him in sixth place was the No. 1 U.S. sled of Brent Rushlaw and Joseph Tyler.
The Swiss, of course, won the two-man event, racing like solid gold from the time they first set sled-runner to ice on Mount Van Hoevenberg. Still, Siler's fire was unquenchable. He saw his fifth place as proof of the resurgence of U.S. bobsledding. "We're coming on," he said in a burst of fine white teeth, "and we're not gonna stop—not me—until we have the flag up. You know what we're going to do? We're going to medal in the four-mans next week. We've seen the Europeans, and we're not afraid. It could be a bronze. Might be a silver. It could be," a pause for a dramatic gesture, "a gold."
One reason that the U.S. has lagged has been a lack of facilities; the Mount Van Hoevenberg bob run is the only one in the country, and before its Olympic remodeling it was something of a ruin. But in its nifty new configuration, the run offers 1,557 meters of whoop-de-do, where sleds can bomb along at 70 mph.
"This one is a driver's course," says Joe McKillip, the technical director of the run. "Anybody can run it—but doing it correctly is something else. If you come off Shady thinking ahead to Zig-Zag instead of the Little-S turn that comes in between, you're already in trouble. And that one little mistake compounds itself as you go along. At that point, even saying a High Mass wouldn't help you."
Back at the finish line, Siler was still cooking. "Greatest feeling in the world is when the sled starts to bounce and chatter, almost enough to make your vision go blurry," he said.
He tugged off one red glove, reached up and tenderly touched the fresh wound.
A little, uh, accident, Howie?
He grinned, the happiest fifth-place sledder in the world. "Look at this" he said. He pushed his ski cap up on his forehead, and there were two more wounds, decorative black stitches and all.
Must have been some crash, Howie.