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Russia's Zubkov may soon have reason to be happy

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 16, 2014 at 5:09 pm •  Published: February 16, 2014
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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Alexander Zubkov did not want to stop and talk to reporters after his first two runs of the two-man bobsled competition at the Sochi Olympics.

And when he did consent to take a few questions, he seemed downright annoyed.

Hard to imagine why he wasn't in a better mood.

Olympic gold for Zubkov — on home ice, no less — is likely two runs away, after the Russian along with brakeman Alexey Voevoda opened a lead of 0.32 seconds over Beat Hefti and brakeman Alex Baumann of Switzerland at the midway point of the two-man event at the Sanki Sliding Center. The final two runs are Monday night.

Steven Holcomb of Park City, Utah, is third, 0.36 seconds behind Zubkov. If Holcomb — who's paired with brakeman Steve Langton of Melrose, Mass. for the two-man event — holds that position, the Americans will win their first two-man medal at the Olympics since 1952.

Still, no one is conceding anything. Any mistake on the track can easily cost a sled a significant amount of time, and Zubkov will have to deal with pressure like never before on Monday night. After all, even a veteran like him has never shown up at a track two runs away from delighting his countrymen by delivering a gold medal.

Here's five things to know entering Monday's final two runs:

MANY CONTENDERS: Zubkov is in his own world right now, that lead of nearly a third of a second looking bigger than the giant snowcapped peaks surrounding the track. But the next nine sleds in the standings are all separated by 0.38 seconds, meaning plenty of movement can still happen before the medals get handed out.

AMERICAN HOPES: Cory Butner and Chris Fogt in USA-2 gave away a ton of time with a skidding, bumpy trip in their second run, falling from third to 11th. Nick Cunningham and Dallas Robinson in USA-3 tinkered with their setup and lost that guessing game, finishing their first two trips nearly a second off Zubkov's pace. So the medal chances, realistically, come down to Holcomb and Langton. "Sled's running," Holcomb said. "We just have to do it."

WHERE'S GERMANY?: The longtime sledding power is not looking powerful at all so far in this race. Francesco Friedrich and Jannis Baecker are in seventh place in Germany-1. If they finish there, it will be the worst showing for Germany in two-man since 1956.

WEATHER WOES: Sunday's runs were in damp, foggy conditions and plenty of sliders complained about slow ice. Also, some drivers wonder why all the training sessions were in the daytime, but the races are at night. It's part of the Russian home-ice advantage, for certain.

JAMAICAN UPDATE: Jamaica was 30th — last — after both heats on Sunday night. That marked the first time in any Olympic appearance that Jamaica's sled was last after any heat of competition.