By Martyn Herman
WHISTLER (Reuters) - American Steven Holcomb calmed safety worries over the Whistler track on Thursday and set his sights on stopping Germany's Andre Lange pocketing all the gold in the Olympic bobsleigh events.
"It depends on whether it becomes an issue of the track being built funky or whether it's just the drivers making mistakes," Holcomb, driver of the four-man bobsleigh dubbed the Night Train, told reporters after the first training runs for Saturday's two-man event were marred by eight crashes.
"I think the track is fine, we just don't have too many runs on it so mistakes get amplified when the speeds increase."
Problems piled up for other medal contenders.
Switzerland's Beat Hefti, another man attempting to stop Lange emulating his Turin double where he topped the podium in both the two-man and four-man, missed training after falling victim to Whistler's unforgiving 50-50 turn.
Hefti, a double bronze medalist in Turin, won four of the season's two-man World Cup races to top the standings, but banged his head and had to be checked out by doctors. He is expected to be fit to drive.
Janis Minins of Latvia, who won a World Cup race at Whistler last year, has also had his preparations wrecked after needing emergency surgery to remove his appendix.
He will definitely miss the two-man but hopes to recover in time for the four-man next week.
Lange, who won the final four World Cups races of the season after recovering from injury, is aiming to become the first man to win three consecutive Olympic titles in the four-man bob but will face fierce competition from the Night Train.
The last American crew to win the four-man bob was in 1948 but Holcomb won the world championships last year and followed that by taking the World Cup title.
Lyndon Rush will shoulder Canadian men's hopes having recently won his first World Cup race in the two-man in St Moritz where they shared gold with Lange and Kevin Kuske.
"Scary is fun too. When you make it through safe, it's hard not to sit up and go "Woo-hoo!" Rush said of the Whistler experience after training on Thursday.
The two-woman bobsleigh looks equally intriguing with world champions Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke attempting to become the first British crew to win Olympic gold since Robin Dixon and Antony Nash won the two-man in 1964.
It has not been the easiest of build-ups for the duo with mixed results followed by Minichiello having to return to England for eye surgery over Christmas after suffering loss of vision at a World Cup event in Italy in December.
Favorite for gold will be Germany's reigning champion Sandra Kiriasis while Shauna Rohbock, silver medal winner in Turin, will carry American hopes. Canada's Kaillie Humphries is a dark horse too after four World Cup podiums this season.
The men's two-man bob features two runs on Saturday and two on Sunday while the women's event takes place next Tuesday and Wednesday. The final action at Whistler's track is the four-man bobsleigh on Friday and Saturday next week.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)