By Martyn Herman
WHISTLER (Reuters) - Steve Holcomb's Night Train thundered into the lead after the first two runs of the Olympic four-man bobsleigh on Friday, fuelling American hopes of a first men's gold in the heavyweight sliding event since 1948.
Holcomb, with Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and brakeman Curtis Tomasevicz wedged in behind him, twice tamed the icy fury of Whistler with immaculate driving to open a 0.40-second lead over Lyndon Rush who was at the controls of Canada I.
His second run time of 50.86 was a new Whistler record.
Germany's Andre Lange, bidding for a record third consecutive Olympic gold in the showcase four-man event, was clinging on in third place, 0.44 seconds behind Holcomb.
Six crashes, all at the same 13th corner nicknamed 50-50, added to the high-speed sporting theater which attracted thousands of fans to the Olympic sliding center on a snowy day on Blackcomb Mountain.
Some unfurled huge national flags as they perched around the winding 1,400 meter lay-out long before the start but it was those waving the Stars and Stripes and the red Maple Leaf who had most to cheer as Holcomb and Rush set the pace.
"We're right where we want to be," world champion Holcomb told reporters. "We had a great day today and we'll have a great day tomorrow. I'm not thinking about 62 years ... that's just adding pressure we don't need. Andre's the one under pressure."
German fans flocked to see five-times Olympic champion Lange, expecting bobsleigh's ultimate driving machine to lead from the front, but he never looked comfortable.
The 36-year-old soldier, looking to repeat his double in Turin, had his sled tottering on one runner at corner 13 but slammed it down just in time -- a stark contrast to the smooth Holcomb whose shiny black sled, loaded with 400 kilos of pure American bulk, barely scraped a wall.
"He definitely looked distracted I think," Holcomb said. "But he's a fighter and he won't give up."
Among the victims of Whistler's notorious 13th corner, which could soon be re-named 40-60, was Alexandr Zubkov, Russia's Turin 2006 Games runner-up and bronze medal winner in the two-man here.
Zubkov kicked out at the wall after crawling from beneath his sled while crew member Philipp Egorov hurled his helmet to the ground.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)