Pierre Lueders, the best two-man bobsled driver in the world,
used to steer through a tight corner with his eyes wide open but
seeing only blackness in the turn, a refrigerated tunnel of love
he would navigate at speeds of more than 80 mph. He calls the
phenomenon "driver's blindness." The only known cure is
experience, and at 27, Lueders, a square-jawed, clenched-fisted
Canadian, now has that. He sees more each time he goes down the
track, and as his vision has improved, other senses necessary
for his sport have been heightened as well. "My feel with the
sled is better in my hands and in my butt," Lueders says.
Bobsledding was Lueders's second, or maybe 11th, sporting
choice. He was a decathlete until August 1989, when he visited
relatives in what was then East Germany. His cousin Gunnar
Meinhardt, a sportswriter, pointed out that the 6'1", 218-pound
Lueders didn't project as a future 8,500-point decathlon man,
but that his size, strength and explosiveness might help make
him a world-class bobsledder.
Lueders began as a brakeman in 1989, graduated to the front of
the sled in '91 and in 1992 won the first World Cup race he
entered. His driving philosophy was cogent if not nuanced: Last
one down is a rotten egg. He never knew bobsledding could be so
easy--then realized that it wasn't. "I hadn't paid my dues to be
a contender," says Lueders, who finished seventh in the two-man
at the 1994 Olympics. "I thought I could just slip in and steal
the show. Looking back, I realize there's a time and place for
Well, Feb. 15 looks like the time and Nagano looks like the
place. Lueders won three of the six two-man races on this
winter's World Cup circuit with three different brakemen (he
will race with longtime partner Dave MacEachern at the
Olympics), and finished second and third in two other races.
Nothing--not even an intrusive TV cameraman covering a race last
December in La Plagne, France--has stood in the way of Lueders,
who is a four-time World Cup season champion. The cameraman had
his lens less than a foot from Lueders's face as the clock for
Canada I's start wound down, and Lueders decided the time had
long passed for a s'il vous plait. He says he pushed the
cameraman aside; according to newspaper accounts, Lueders
punched him. It was all sorted out following Lueders's victory,
without help from Johnnie Cochran, whose services would almost
certainly have been useful to Lueders a few years back.
"The difference between me now and me in Lillehammer is that in
1994 I was a wildfire burning out of control," says Lueders.
"I'm still intense, but now my intensity is in a fireplace,
where I can contain and control it. Knowing when to turn it up
is the key."
Unlike the Nagano Olympic torch, Lueders's flame won't go out.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID MADISON [Pierre Lueders and another man in bobsled]