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Germany's Lange wins gold in bobsled

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Andre Lange stepped out of his bobsled, flexed his muscles and mugged for the cameras.

Germany's sliding star then held up four fingers.

Four for four. A golden grand slam.

Lange kept his perfect record inside the winter rings intact on Sunday, winning the two-man competition to become the winningest pilot in Olympic history and increase the medal total for a country that has mastered the sliding sports like no other.

"Andre is the great one," said Canada-1 driver Lyndon Rush. "They say the cream rises to the top, Andre Lange is the cream."

With cropped hair he recently dyed blond — yep, golden blond — just for the Vancouver Games, Lange completed his four trips down Whistler Sliding Center's wicked-fast track in 3 minutes, 26.65 seconds, .22 ahead of Germany's Thomas Florschuetz (3:26.87), who won the silver. Russia's Alexsandr Zubkov (3:27.51) won the bronze.

Lange has raced four times in the Olympics and won them all.

"When I started bobsledding 17 years ago, I would have never thought of such a victory," Lange said. "If you told me I would win four gold medals, I would say 'You're stupid.'"

Steve Holcomb of the United States finished sixth but wasn't too worried about the result. He used the two-man as a tune-up for his best race, the four-man, where he'll try to end a gold-medal drought dating back to 1948 for the U.S. in his sled dubbed "The Night Train."

To win, Holcomb will have to beat Lange, the man no one in the Olympics can catch.

"Andre is retiring," Holcomb said, "so maybe he'll start slipping us a secret."

Doubtful.

Lange is the first driver to win four bobsled golds since the sport first slid into the games in 1924.

The 36-year-old, who has hinted at retiring after he competes in the four-man event here, came to Blackcomb Mountain tied with Meinhard Nehmer, who won three gold medals (1976, 1980) for Germany, when it was divided into East and West.

But just as he has sped past the competition, first in a four-man sled at Salt Lake in 2002, then at Cesana, Italy, in both the two- and four-man competitions four years ago, and now in Canada's back country, Lange has separated himself from everyone in the record books.

Quiet and calm when he's not competing, Lange is a driving devil on ice.

He has surpassed all the drivers who have negotiated their sleds through corners from St. Moritz to Lake Placid. One day, there could someone better. One day.

"I hope in the long history of bobsleigh someone goes above and beyond what I have done," Lange said.

When Germany-1 crossed the finish line and Kevin Kuske — Lange's teammate for every one of his Olympic wins — applied the brakes, another victory secured. The teammates, who couldn't be more different off the ice, are an almost unstoppable force on it.

Lange pounded on the cowling of his sled, and moments later stepped out, bent down and kissed his ride.

Gold again.

Over two days, Lange made his way around this treacherous 16-curve track like he owned it. A course that confounded drivers, crashed sleds and drew criticism from outsiders who feel it may be unsafe after a luger died after being ejected from its final turn, was humbled by Lange.

After four sleds, including Rush's crashed on Saturday, there wasn't a single wreck during final two runs, perhaps a sign that drivers are finally getting comfortable on this unforgiving track.

Germany has been better than ever in these Olympics.

Now with nine medals from luge, skeleton and bobsled in these games, Germany has matched its biggest Olympic medal haul since beginning to compete under a unified flag again at the 1992 games. It also won nine medals at Salt Lake City in 2002 (five in luge, four in bobsled).

And this year's total is a safe bet to rise — maybe by a lot — with women's and four-man bobsledding still to come.

Lange is a hero in his homeland — and beyond.

USA-2 driver John Napier has had two bobsled heroes. One was his father, a longtime sledder and former head of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. The other was Wolfgang Hoppe — a six-time Olympic medalist considered to be Germany's all-time best driver.

Lange became his third, and Napier doesn't mind saying he tries to emulate certain parts of the German's ways on the track.

"The man is a great driver," Napier said. "He's a great champion. He's very humble. He has great skills. He's got a great push with Kuske behind him, and he's got great equipment. He's a true champion, and I aspire someday to be like him."

Lange's nickname is "barchen," little bear in German. During these games, he joked with teammates that he felt like a hunted animal among the snow-wrapped pine trees ringing the track. But no one trapped Lange, who remains free to add to his golden collection.

Holcomb's next chance will come in the four-man, which begins with two heats Friday.

"I'd like to say that we were just gearing up for the four-man, but realistically, we came out here to win just like everybody else," Holcomb said. "We gave it everything we had. I drove well, we have fast equipment, and something wasn't there.

"The Germans definitely have something going on that we don't."

Lange's sliding career began when he was 8, but not in the bobsled's front seat. Luge was his first calling, and while he enjoyed the thrill of dive-bombing down tracks on his back and steering with his feet, he realized that international success would not be in his future.

By 1993, he switched to bobsled. He's been on the ride of his life ever since.

Lange came into Sunday's event with a .11 second lead over Florschuetz. Before the third heat, Lange stepped up the start line and slapped Kuske, the 6-foot-5, 255-pound strongman, on the back, closed his visor and off they went in their electric-blue hot rod on ice.

With the teams behind him hoping for a mistake, Lange equaled the track record, his way of saying, 'OK, catch me if you can.'

No one did. In the Olympics, no one ever does.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.