World Cup bobsled/skeleton recap

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. //  It wasn't too long ago that skeleton looked to be America's winter sport.

Added for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the face-first sliding sport was dominated by the U.S. team, which won two gold medals and a silver.


"It felt like we were on our way," said Jimmy Shea Jr., a third-generation Olympian who won with his grandfather's funeral Mass card tucked in his helmet. "It was a great way to break into the Olympics."

The magic vanished in 2006, when injuries and a drug disqualification eliminated top contenders. The best the team could muster was two sixth-place finishes.

With little more than two months to go until the 2010 Winter Games and international competition shifting to Europe for the remainder of the season, the U.S. skeleton campaign is in danger of unraveling.

At World Cup competition that ended here Sunday, German sliders took three of six medals; U.S. men and woman could do no better than fifth place before a hometown crowd.

"The sport has matured. The Germans took notice. The rest of the world caught up," said John Morgan, a former U.S. bobsledder and TV analyst.

During last season's World Cup series, American men reached the podium once and the women did so twice.

The picture also is grim in women's bobsled, where Germans finished 1-2 and hold the top two spots in World Cup rankings. With half of the final six races on German tracks, it will be difficult to overtake them.

"It's annoying. It's unacceptable," said driver and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Shauna Rohbock, who finished fourth behind the Germans. "They can be 1-2 now, but we'll take 1-2 later."

The bright spot for the U.S. is men's bobsled. John Napier and Steve Holcomb traded the top two spots in two-man and four-man competitions.

Holcomb is the reigning world champion in four-man and tops the World Cup rankings in two-man. Napier, 22, the upset winner in two-man, is considered a rising star. In the wings, recovering from a hamstring injury, is Todd Hays, 2002 Olympic silver medalist.

"We're deep. We're strong. We're coming," said Napier.