'Night Train' Delivers American Gold Medal Record

American Steve Holcomb and his four-man "Night Train" sled made bobsled history at the Olympic sliding track in Whistler Saturday. They won the gold medal, something Americans haven't done in the sport in 62 years. The finish also adds to the record medal haul for Americans at a single Winter Olympics.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

It's the last day of the Vancouver Olympics, which has turned out to be a North American duel between the United States and host country Canada - on ice, on snow, and in the medals count. Canada has now matched the record for most gold medals in a Winter Olympics with its curling victory over Norway yesterday. More on that in a moment.

First to NPR's Howard Berkes and the four-man bobsled in which Americans won their first gold medal in 62 years.

HOWARD BERKES: This may be Canada's track as the home country crowd in Whistler indicated when their Canada four-man bobsled took to the ice.

(Soundbite of cheering)

BERKES: That rumble is the sound of the sled going through the last turn. Canada was in first place for about two minutes. Every sled that followed did better, including the Night Train, as the Team USA sled is called.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified People: USA. USA.

BERKES: The Americans in the grandstand at the finish cheered the familiar cheer as the four bobsledders leapt from their sled and hugged(ph). They had ended a six-decade, gold-medal drought and supplanted four-time gold medalist Andre Lange of Germany of the bobsled (unintelligible). They also added yet another medal to the pile Americans are collecting in Whistler in Vancouver - a record number now.

Which raises the question: Why bobsled and why now? The answer, says sliding writer Candus Thomson of the Baltimore Sun, is driver Steve Holcomb and his close brush with blindness.

Ms. CANDUS THOMSON (Writer, Baltimore Sun): I mean, he's been called the Zen master. He doesn't need to walk the track. He does it by feel. I mean, you know, he's a man who almost went blind, he did things instinctively, and I think he's an instinctive driver and I think he's an instinctive leader.

BERKES: Which is important when it's three men pushing at the start all in unison and all getting into the sled cleanly, then riding like Spam in a can for 51 seconds at more than 90 miles an hour. Holcomb was matter-of-fact about the golden bobsled runs, which include two heats raced at track record times.

Mr. STEVE HOLCOMB (U.S. Bobsledder): Just got in the sled and was focused. I knew the line that I had to drive. I drove as best I could and then came out victorious.

BERKES: The victory pushed the United States further into record medal territory. And with either silver or gold after today's final hockey match, the U.S. will have 37 medals overall, the biggest haul of any nation in a single Winter Olympics.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Whistler.

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