PARK CITY, Utah - The drought is over, times two.
With a light snow falling and 15,000 spectators cheering, U.S. bobsled teams finished second and third yesterday in the four-man event, ending a 46-year stretch without a medal.
USA 1 driver Todd Hays put down four consistent runs over two days to take the silver medal, and five-time Olympian Brian Shimer drove USA 2 in a torrid final dash to the finish line to win the bronze medal. Hays had a four-run time of 3 minutes, 7.81 seconds; Shimer finished in 3:07.86.
Hays grabbed Shimer at the finish in joy. "Oh my God, what a drive, baby!" he shouted. "That was amazing!"
Said Shimer: "I'm numb. ... I'd be crying, but I'm too dehydrated."
Germany's Andre Lange, who took the lead from Hays yesterday morning, would not be overtaken in the final run and finished with the gold, at 3:07.51, a full .30 of a second ahead of Hays.
Ranked first in the World Cup combined standings and No. 2 in the world in the four-man standings, Lange was considered the man to beat.
Two days of warm temperatures left the ice chute slow, and snow that came between the third and fourth runs yesterday dropped speeds even more, making good starts imperative.
It appeared that Shimer, in fourth place with one run to go, would end his Olympic career without a trip to the podium. In 1998 in Nagano, Japan, he missed the bronze by .02 of a second.
Yesterday, grasping hands for the last time with Mike Kohn, Doug Sharp and Dan Steele, Shimer said, "Let's roll."
Not known for his starts, Shimer lived up to his reputation on his final run. The weak start was ninth-fastest of the fourth run, so a medal seemed out of reach.
Then Shimer's driving skills took over. He picked up speed on each curve and straightaway, and had the fastest fourth run by the finish line.
"That's it," he said, looking spent. "I would never come back after that finish."
Hays ran up to Shimer. "Could you think of a better ending?" he asked.
"Yeah, Shimer replied, without missing a beat. "Beating you."
After losing in Nagano, Shimer's career appeared over. His team retired and its members went their separate ways. The years of pounding the track had left Shimer with a badly battered body.
"Losing that way in Nagano was really tough to swallow," he said. "But knowing that the games would be on our soil, in our backyard, gave me a reason to hope."
He put together a new team and planned his final run. Two of his old teammates - Garrett Hines and Randy Jones - ended up on Hays' squad.
"It was hard for me after '98. It was hard to come back," said Jones, who along with Hines became the first black American men to win Winter Olympics medals. "I guess the third time is the charm."
Hays, meanwhile, appeared in awe of his senior teammate. "It's one of those events that are indescribable. My hat goes off to Brian Shimer. I'm glad to know this guy, glad to be part of this team."
However, another piece of bobsled history remained unwritten. Christoph Langen, the defending four-man Olympic champion, was denied the chance to repeat after he tore a muscle in his left foot during the first day of competition.
Langen had been hoping to enter the Olympic history books as the driver with the most gold medals. He won the two-man event this year to go with his first-place finish in the four-man in 1998. Langen also has two bronze medals.
"I'm very disappointed and very frustrated," Langen said yesterday. "It is impossible to compete with this injury."
Langen's withdrawal gave Shimer, in fourth place, hope.
"After the first heat, I said, 'Wow, maybe it's in the cards,' " he said. "I don't know what brought us down the hill so fast. ... Bronze is pretty close to gold in color."