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Longshot Kohn wins spot on U.S. Olympic bobsled team

Photo by TODD BISSONETTE

Photo by TODD BISSONETTE

Mike Kohn was going to retire. Instead, he's going to the Olympics.

Relegated to the American bobsled bench when the season began and hardly an Olympic lock when he rejoined the World Cup tour in January, Kohn's hopes of racing in the Vancouver Games were realized Sunday when he was one of three drivers selected for the U.S. roster.

Kohn locked up a two-man spot Saturday, then followed up by clinching a four-man berth with a sixth-place Sunday at a World Cup race in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Those finishes ensured that the U.S. men's team qualified the maximum three sleds in both Olympic disciplines, with drivers Steven Holcomb and John Napier having wrapped up their spots earlier this season.

"Makes for a good story, right?" Kohn said Sunday.

A really good story, at least from his perspective.

Kohn was planning to give up bobsledding around Christmas, after struggling a bit on the America's Cup circuit -- basically the sport's minor league. And with Holcomb, Napier and Todd Hays having separated themselves as the top U.S. drivers, Kohn figured continuing to race was "a waste of time."

Not quite. Hays retired following a training crash that caused bleeding in his brain, Kohn was summoned back, and a Vancouver trip is his reward.

"I decided to hang in there anyway," said Kohn, who was a bronze medalist as a push athlete for Brian Shimer's four-man sled at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. "Glad I did."

Shimer is now a U.S. coach, and made no secret that he was thrilled for Kohn.

"It was a great moment, having to battle back from where he came from," Shimer said.

American sliders took 14 of a possible 15 Olympic start positions in bobsled and skeleton.

Holcomb's USA-1 four-man sled will be pushed by Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz, the reigning world champions. Napier's USA-2 will carry Chuck Berkeley, Steve Langton and Chris Fogt, while Kohn's USA-3 will have Jamie Moriarty, Bill Schuffenhauer and Nick Cunningham aboard.

In two-man, Holcomb will be with Tomasevicz (who was with Kohn for his final World Cup two-man push), Napier will partner with Langton, and Kohn's push athlete will be selected later.

Choosing the drivers was the easy part for the Olympic selection committee; they qualified themselves based on points. Choosing the push athletes was the difficult part for a program that might be deeper now than ever.

"We have some unbelievable athletes who won't be making the trip to Vancouver," said USBSF CEO Darrin Steele. "That's really the hardest part. ... But we are very confident that we've made the right decision and we couldn't be happier with the teams we are sending to Vancouver."

Once Hays got hurt, Kohn was in a race against time, trying to get the world ranking points needed to qualify in both two- and four-man competitions. Getting plenty of help from other U.S. bobsledders -- Hays included -- Kohn climbed far enough in the standings to reach Vancouver.

"I can't thank Todd enough for his help and support over the last few weeks in helping our team," Kohn said. "He's been a huge part of my success."

Two-time defending Olympic four-man champion Andre Lange of Germany drove to his third straight World Cup gold medal Sunday, winning the two-run event at St. Moritz in 2 minutes, 10.13 seconds. Karl Angerer drove another German sled to second, just ahead of the Russian sled piloted by Alexsandr Zubkov.

Holcomb's team was fourth, and Napier's sled was 11th on Sunday.