Russia's Zubkov takes slim lead in Olympic 4-man

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 22, 2014 at 2:01 pm •  Published: February 22, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Alexander Zubkov has close company in his pursuit of Olympic history.

Trying to become the sixth driver to win two bobsled gold medals in the same games, Zubkov has a narrow lead over Latvia's Oskars Melbardis after the first two runs of the four-man competition, shaping up to be a sled-to-sled battle between the world's fastest drivers on ice.

The favorite after dominating the two-man event, the 39-year-old Zubkov and his crew completed their two runs down the Sanki Sliding Center track on Saturday in 1 minute, 50.19 seconds — 0.04 seconds ahead of Latvia's Oskars Melbardis, who jumped three sleds with a blistering second run.

USA-1 driver Steven Holcomb, the defending Olympic champion who couldn't catch Zubkov in two-man and settled for bronze, is fourth, 0.17 seconds behind Zubkov. Maximilian Arndt in Germany-1 is third, 0.16 seconds back.

With two runs left on Sunday, the gold is very much up for grabs.

"There's a lot of good teams out here," said Holcomb, who wasn't slowed by a nagging calf injury. "I knew it was going to be a battle like this."

If Zubkov is feeling any pressure to win Russia's first gold in four-man and put an exclamation point on the Sochi Games for the host nation, he's not showing it — at least not in his sled.

But after his two runs, Zubkov was somewhat tense and a little irritated by a crash involving Canada-3, which came shortly before the leading sleds began their second runs.

"The Canadians spoiled the track," Zubkov snapped. "That's why the top teams are struggling."

Canadian driver Justin Kripps' wreck didn't bother Melbardis, who posted a time of 55.13 on his second run to move ahead of Arndt, Holcomb and Germany's Thomas Florschuetz. Melbardis won a World Cup event here last year, and was viewed as a potential spoiler in four-man.

Chilled by the colder temperatures at night, the world's longest track was lightning fast for the 30-sled field. It challenged the drivers, who made their training runs during the day in much warmer weather and had to quickly adjust to maneuvering their 460-pound (208-kilogram) vehicles loaded with 800 pounds (363 kilograms) of passengers in unfamiliar conditions.

They'll resume racing in the daylight Sunday afternoon, when Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to be in attendance to help Russian fans cheer Zubkov to gold.

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