Local boy makes good

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. // With two powerful starts and some precision driving, John Napier won his first World Cup bobsled gold medal on the track around the corner from his home.

Then, with his right foot, he stomped a green-and-white pack of cigarettes, winning a bet with a mentor who had vowed to end his decades-old habit to honor Napier's first win.


"I didn't expect it. I didn't deserve it," said a grinning Napier, 22, who lives on Bob Run Road in a house he helped build three years ago. "To do it here means a lot."

The U.S. men's squad finished one-two in the two-man bobsled competition. Napier's two-run time was 1 minute, 53.62 seconds. Steve Holcomb, the reigning 4-man world champion, finished twenty-six hundredths of a second back. Mike Kohn, who lives in Northern Virginia and trains in Maryland, finished ninth, with a time of 1:54.69.


Napier, a good driver often undone by poor starts, snapped off a great push with Charles Berkeley and steered his way to a first-place finish in the first heat.

Then, he had to endure more than an hour wait until it was time for his second run.

Kohn offered some advice to keep his mind off the track: Think of amorous blue elephants.

Instead, Napier walked to the old bobsled start house used for the 1980 Olympics and thought of his father.

Bill Napier, former president of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation and a former development team coach, died of kidney cancer in 2005. His parents, both bobsled drivers, met at the track. Betsy Napier remembers bringing their only son there when he was about two weeks old.

John started driving small sleds when he was 8 and worked his way up through the ranks. Track workers, including track chief Tony Carlino, looked out for the kid they called "a track rat."

"He's a tall, skinny kid who worked hard, worked hard, worked hard and it paid off," said Carlino, a gruff old bobsled driver who broke into tears as Napier crossed the finish line the second time and ducked his head as he wiped his eyes.

It was Carlino who made the bet with Napier, who reached out to hug the winner and who pulled the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket for Napier to crush.


"I just quit," Carlino said.

Napier is a member of a Vermont National Guard unit that is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan next year. If he makes the Olympic team, Napier has asked to be allowed to catch up with his outfit in March.

"I'm ready to go to war," he said.

Coach Brian Shimer said the win will give Napier confidence as the World Cup tour heads for Europe.

"This is his time," Shimer said. "If he's in the mix at the start he's as good as anyone out there."