CESANA, Italy - His final race finished, Todd Hays rose from the bobsled and slowly swung his legs over the side.
Looking down, the brawny Texan paused.
This was his moment, the one to savor — his last as an Olympian.
Once again there would be no gold medal for Hays or the U.S. team, but that was fine.
“I came to compete,” Hays said. “I came to represent the United States. I did all those things. The only thing you can ask for in life is a chance. I had that.”
Hays retired Saturday after finishing a distant seventh in four-man, more than a second behind Germany’s Andre Lange, who pulled off a rare gold-medal sliding sweep at the Turin Olympics.
Taming the wicked 19-turn Alpine course like he was on a weekend joy ride with three friends, Lange and teammates Rene Hoppe, Kevin Kuske and Martin Putze finished in 3 minutes, 40.42 seconds.
Lange defeated Russian’s Alexander Zoubkov (3:40.55) and Switzerland’s Martin Annen (3:40.83), who won his second bronze of the games after finishing third in two-man.
The 32-year-old Lange is only the fifth driver to win both events in the same Olympics, and the first since Germany’s Wolfgang Hoppe in 1984 at Sarajevo. The defending gold medal winner in four-man at Salt Lake City in 2002, Lange joined German Meinhard Nehmer (1976, 1980) as the only men to win back-to-back titles.
“I think he’s one of the greatest athletes who has ever walked the planet,” American crewman Pavle Jovanovic said.
Four years ago, Lange’s closest competitor was Hays. In his final games, Hays wasn’t even close.
Hays is giving up bobsled, a sport he only took up after his dreams of playing professional football were snuffed out by a shoulder injury. He’s planning a football comeback — this time, as a coach.
He has already taught other American sliders well. Holcomb, still a relative novice steering a high-tech sled, finished sixth by outdriving Hays and appears ready to assume his more famous teammate’s front spot in USA-1.
Although he will never pilot a sled for the U.S. again, Hays has left behind a legacy for the American program to build upon. Before his silver-medal finish in 2002, the U.S. had not won an Olympic bobsled medal in 46 years.
Not long ago, the Americans were considered clowns on ice by Europe’s sliding elite.