You can talk all you want about the United States' 50-year medal drought in Olympic bobsledding. Brian Shimer is trying to end his own.
As a four-time Olympian and driver of USA I entries in the two- and four-man bobsled events in the Nagano Games, Shimer has racked up plenty of international success as a 13-year member of the national team. But maybe that number 13 is appropriate for his past Olympic bad luck, which has mirrored the American sorrows as well.Flashback to Calgary, 1988: Shimer gets his first taste of the Games as a pushman on the four-man team that finishes 16th. In the same race, the four-man crew of Rushlaw, Hoy, Wasko and White miss a bronze medal by 0.02 seconds. And in the two-man event, the U.S. can't break the top 15.
Flashback to Albertville, 1992: Shimer teams with NFL running back Herschel Walker as the top-ranked U.S. two-man tandem. But Walker comes on only after the end of the NFL season, giving the two little time to work. Plus, the pair have to switch to new sled runners the day before the Olympics when their customary ones are ruled illegal. The two former college football players - Walker a Heisman Trophy winner at Georgia and Shimer a receiver and running back at Kentucky's Moorehead State - finish seventh.
With Walker and fellow NFL pro Willie Gault among those competing for squad spots, bickering and bantering about team selection and crew assignments seem to affect the United States even more in the four-man, with the Americans finishing ninth and 11th.
Flashback to Lillehammer, 1994: After strong showings in international competition the season before, the United States struggles in Norway. Shimer and Randy Jones come in 13th in the two-man, with James Herberich and Chip Minton right behind at 14th.
In the four-man, Shimer's squad gets disqualified when the U.S. support crew lets the sled runners get too warm - an Olympic no-no. And as an added insult, USA II finishes 14th - behind Jamaica's foursome and its Rasta Rocket sled.
So you can't blame Shimer if he's a little cautious after finishing the 1996-97 season with three golds and six medals in World Cup competition, a second-place in the overall points standings and two bronzes in the World Championships.
"You can't take anything for granted," said Shimer, the 1992-93 World Cup titlist. "We had a great season as a team in 1993 and then a disastrous '94 Olympics. That's why we're not getting overconfident after our season last year. That won't mean anything in Nagano - you have to prove yourself here."
Shimer has proved himself once already on Nagano's Spiral track.
Hampered by a bad back before the 1997 World Cup race here, he visited a local acupuncturist and then went out and teamed drove the U.S. to the gold.
The Florida native has more than just Olympic woes to show disaster lurks behind every corner. At the 1995 World Championships, Shimer suffered a broken toe when a sled fell on his foot during training. And the following year, a pulled groin muscle suffered in the World Cup opener hindered him all year.
About that same time, Shimer moved full-time to Lake Placid, N.Y., to live next to the U.S. training facilities. The move benefited his personal life as well - it was there he met Sophia Eliazova, a Russian-born ice dancer on the U.S. national team. They are engaged to be married after the Olympics.
With Shimer two months shy of turning 36, is Nagano his last hurrah? "I'm not sure," he said. "This sport has been my life, at least for the past 12 years or so. If I stay close to the top, I don't think I need to retire. There's no point.
"Plus, there's always 2002 out there and Salt Lake City next," he added.
"I'm not sure I want to miss that."