WHISTLER, British Columbia — Crashes at the Whistler Sliding Centre continue to change the face of the competition, with two of three Swiss entries in the two-man bobsled event scratched because of injuries to athletes.
A nasty flip on Wednesday forced Switzerland's Beat Hefti, the top-ranked driver, to withdraw from competition Friday because of a concussion. His countrymen, Daniel Schmid and Juerg Egger, also withdrew after a crash Friday that left Egger with "a cervical spine injury," according to a team doctor.
"He can walk," said Dr. Christian Schlegel. "He has no motor function disruption."
Latvian driver Janis Minins, considered a medal favorite in the four-man event, had to withdraw Thursday from two-man competition after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. He is trying to return for the second event, which begins Feb. 26.
Into this chaos comes Mike Kohn, pilot of USA-3, who has been given the unenviable task of having a week to learn to drive the world's fastest track without making it a crash course.
"It's like hitting a golf ball," said Kohn, 37. "Sometimes if you just walk up and hit the ball, it works for you."
Thursday night, the U.S. federation selected Nick Cunningham, a member of Kohn's four-man team, to be his pusher in this event.
Kohn will be joined by America's top driver and reigning four-man world champion, Steve Holcomb, who will have Curt Tomasevicz, his reliable engine behind him. USA-2 pilot John Napier will partner with Steve Langton.
A gold medal in this event, considered unlikely, would snap a 62-year drought, the longest of any nation.
"If we do get it, it will be a huge accomplishment," said Holcomb. "I don't think anybody's going to hate us if we don't win."
Easily the favorite in the race is three-time gold medalist Andre Lange of Germany, who is looking to become the most decorated bobsled driver with a win here or in the four-man event. He would overtake Bernhard Germeshausen of Germany, who won three gold medals and one silver in 1976 and 1980.
Kohn has a bronze medal from the 2002 Olympics, where he was a pusher on the sled driven by Brian Shimer, now the men's coach. He was an alternate in 2006.