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Saturday, December 18, 2010
John Napier 7th in World Cup bobsled

Associated Press

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- It's been a month and a day since Olympic bobsledder John Napier returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Now, he can really say he's back home.

He competed in World Cup event for the first time on his home track at Lake Placid since he won gold in a stunning triumph a year ago in the two-man race. Napier's comeback began with a solid seventh place on Saturday with brakeman Laszlo Vandracsek.
John Napier
John Napier competed Saturday in a World Cup event one month and one day after returning from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The mortar and rocket fire Napier endured in the Afghan province of Paktika was replaced by the familiar ice-chattering sounds on a sun-splashed day on Mount Van Hoevenberg.

"It feels great. I'm just glad we did well," said Napier, who has increased his weight 15 pounds to 206 since his return. "I couldn't be happier with the kind of condition and shape I'm in.

"My team is doing a great job. I got sixth in Park City and seventh out here. That's all I could really ask for coming back after no training in the summer. I'm just grateful to be here," he said.

Napier, who enlisted in the National Guard in 2007, is a member of the Army's World Class Athlete Program, which helps provide him with support and training.

"I'm sitting there saying, just enjoy the moment and have fun with it because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Napier said. "I'm racing bobsleds and I survived Afghanistan and here I am with some great friends and great people. We're going to be successful, and that's all that matters."

Italy's Simone Bertazzo and brakeman Sergio Riva won the race in 1 minute, 51.40 seconds, edging Alexsandr Zubkov and Dmitry Trunenkov of Russia by 0.04 in the 16-sled field. Karl Angerer and brakeman Alex Mann of Germany, who led by 0.08 seconds after the first run, took the bronze, just 0.04 ahead of Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton in USA1.

World Cup leader Manuel Machata of Germany finished sixth with brakeman Andreas Bredau; Ethan Albrecht-Carrie and brakeman Jared Clugston were 13th in USA3.

Sandra Kiriasis and brakewoman Stephanie Schneider of Germany won the women's race later in the day, beating teammates Cathleen Martini and Christin Senkel by one-third of a second. Helen Upperton and Shelly-Ann Brown of Canada took the bronze.

Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo of the United States finished fifth. Elana Meyers, driving in her first World Cup race, finished an impressive sixth with Jamie Greubel as her brakewoman. Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming of the United States, third after the first heat, crashed on their second heat and did not finish.

Rohbock lost control near the midpoint of the 20-curve layout as the sled flipped on its side. Both walked away, with Rohbock rubbing her neck.

Holcomb, the Olympic champion in four-man at Whistler, was hampered by a sore hamstring. However, he was encouraged by his result in a year that's been like no other since he began competing in the late 1990s.

"Across the board, I think everybody just kind of takes it easy. It's a lot of stress, a lot of hard work leading up to [the Olympics]," Holcomb said. "You've got to take a break, but at the same time there's a lot of pressure being the World Cup champion, the world champion and the Olympic champion. Everybody's like, 'Why aren't you the champion now?'

"I've got to take a break sometime," said Holcomb, fifth in the two-man World Cup standings at the midpoint of the season. "I've got to relax a little bit. It's a little overwhelming."

Holcomb's victory at Whistler thwarted the bid by the great German driver Andre Lange to win five gold medals in five Olympic tries.

What has happened since was expected but eye-opening.

"It's different now," he said. "You always kind of assume when you're doing well that people are hunting you down. Now, it's official. They're definitely coming after us. The Germans are really not happy that we took their gold medal, and as you can see so far this season they're fighting hard to get it back."

Holcomb also had to deal with an arrest for driving under the influence in Park City in October 2009, months before the Vancouver Games.

"I've had to deal with this for the last year, so mentally it's not something new to me," Holcomb said. "There's nothing I can do about it. You just do your thing."

He credited his sport for helping him cope.

"That's one thing that bobsled has -- mental focus and being able to get in the moment," Holcomb said. "For an entire minute, your focus is on one thing, and to be able to sit down and focus on something for a minute is actually pretty difficult. Go and stare at something for a whole minute. You learn pretty quickly how to put things aside and just do what you've got to do."

Darrin Steele, chief executive officer of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation, said the team would deal with the arrest once it's resolved legally.

"It's been a little bit of a distraction," Steele said. "Things happen in the personal lives of the athletes. We'll deal with that as it progresses.

"He's a guy that takes responsibility for things and he owns it," Steele said. "He'll own it and we'll move on ... try to turn it into positive. He'll probably be a better person as a result of it."