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Americans end 46-year drought

USA-1 and USA-2, piloted by Naples' Brian Shimer, win silver and bronze.

By JOHN ROMANO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2002

USA-1 and USA-2, piloted by Naples' Brian Shimer, win silver and bronze.

PARK CITY, Utah -- From the start, it would take a leap of faith.

After all, the U.S. men's bobsled team had not won an Olympic medal in 46 years. Brian Shimer, of Naples, had left Calgary, Albertville, Lillehammer and Nagano with nothing to show for his years of preparation.

In the end, it would take a leap of faith.

Shimer's four-man team began the day in fifth. They moved to fourth with one run remaining, but needed one of the front-runners to turn in their worst performance of the Olympics.

When it was done, Shimer took that leap of faith.

What else could he do? In his fifth and final Olympics, Shimer won bronze. And so he leapt across the bobsled track, into the bleachers and into the arms of his family.

"I was like 10 feet in the air," Shimer said. "It was an amazing feeling of joy swelling up in me. I ran over to my family and just started bawling."

Not only did Shimer catch up to a medal he had been chasing for 14 years across five countries, but the U.S. ended an inglorious bobsled drought. Americans Todd Hays, Randy Jones, Bill Schuffenhauer and Garrett Hines took silver ahead of Shimer, Mike Kohn, Doug Sharp and Dan Steele. The German team, led by driver Andre Lange, won gold.

"If I had heard "46 years' one more time, I was going to pass out," Hays said. "We've got 46 years of partying stored up. U.S. Bobsled is going to party tonight. We got a 46-year monkey off our backs."

No one carried the weight of disappointment more than Shimer.

A former state wrestling champion out of Naples High, Shimer began his bobsled career in 1985 after a football career at Morehead State. He was a pusher in his first Olympics in 1998, but soon switched to driver.

Through much of the 1990s, he was the best America had. Shimer took Herschel Walker with him as a pusher in the two-man sled in the 1992 Olympics and finished seventh. He was a favorite in the four-man sled in 1994, but was disqualified on an equipment technicality.

In 1998, he was third before the final heat, but wound up missing the bronze by .02 of a second.

The past four years have been the toughest. Shimer missed the 2000 season after two knee operations and took off much of this season to get healthy, despite pressure from U.S. coaches to return to the sled.

His time of 47.23 in the last heat Saturday was the fastest of the competitors, and it edged him past the Swiss team, which had its slowest time of the Games.

"A five-time Olympian in the last heat of his life getting the job done," Hays said. "How amazing is that? That's storybook."

Shimer, 39, said he was strangely calm before the final run. He said he had prayed before the Olympics to simply make it through with his health and he was satisfied to walk away without a medal.

Instead he had the run of his life.

"I don't know what brought us down the hill so fast. It was just the electricity in the air," Shimer said. "I'm just numb. I'd be crying right now if I wasn't so dehydrated.

"There's no other way to end your career than to win a medal."

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