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Which is why Bodine has built Holcomb another state-of-the-art bobsled.
‘Better bullet’ » Just like its predecessor, the "Night Train 2" is all-black, intimidating and built in America. But this time, it also has a carbon-fiber construction, improved suspension and smoother steering, built by a team of engineers recruited to Bo-Dyn from the auto-racing world and devoted to returning Holcomb to the top of the medal stand.
"It’s a better bullet," said Hans Debot, the team’s composites expert from North Carolina.
That’s because the carbon-fiber is stronger than the old Kevlar-and-fiberglass construction, allowing greater flexibility in distributing weight within the sled. That’s vitally important and can help trim valuable time off a bobsled run, which is timed to the hundredth of a second.
About $150,000, Bodine said, most of it from sponsors and supporters. And right out of the box, as they say, the Night Train 2 clocked a time in Lake Placid last March just as fast as one of the original Night Train’s times during a World Cup event there last year.
"We’ve proven that it’s fast," said Bob Cuneo, the sled-design mastermind who owns Chassis Dynamics and co-founded Bo-Dyn years ago. "Even when it’s not perfect, it’s really fast."
But Holcomb and his team are trying to get it perfect.
That’s why they recently spent an entire day at the A2 Wind Tunnel outside of Charlotte, deep in the heart of NASCAR country, climbing into and out of the sled over and again for four-minute test runs monitored by Cuneo and his fellow engineers. The athletes — including Tomasevicz, Justin Olsen, Steve Langton and alternate Chris Fogt, of Alpine, who recently won the national push-start championship — switched positions in the sled, tried different helmets, and taped down even the smallest bits of their already skin-tight uniforms to reduce the drag.
"There’s a great sign on the wall out there that says one test result is worth 1,000 expert opinions," Holcomb said.
But that doesn’t mean he has a free ride back to the podium all of a sudden, just like that.
‘Time crunch’ » By its nature, bobsled driving takes a long time to master.
Basketball players can shoot hundreds of jump shots a day, sometimes in their own backyard, to improve quickly. Baseball players can work on their swing over and over, until it’s nearly dark outside. Bobsled drivers? They must haul a nearly 500-pound sled to the top of a huge mountain at one of only 17 tracks around the world, and persuade at least three other guys to go along, just to practice a 90-second ride one time.
Which explains how Holcomb spent only about two hours in the sled throughout all of last season, combined.
So having only about four months to figure out all of the nuances of a new sled before the Olympics start in February is not quite the ideal scenario.
Yes, the American bobsledders will get a few dozen runs on the Olympic track when they spend a training week in Sochi in late November. But Holcomb would have loved to have had more time to get comfortable to challenge the Russians, Germans, Swiss and Canadians — all of whom have been working with better equipment and better financing, all along.
"It would have been awesome to have this a year ago," Holcomb said. "It’s amazing that we have it now, but at the same time, it’s just a time crunch. We only have four months to figure it out. … I know we’re going to have the fastest push on the hill. I don’t want to be the one who makes the mistakes so I have to figure out what it takes to get this sled to do exactly what I want it to do when I need it."
At the very least, the team testing the Night Train 2 doesn’t believe it will be any slower than the original.
"We’re pretty confident," said Mike Kohn, the two-time Olympian who’s now an assistant coach for the U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation.Next Page >
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