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Russian four holds slim lead

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Alexander Zubkov has company in his pursuit of Olympic history.

More than the Russian probably expected.

Definitely more than he wanted.

Trying to become the sixth driver to win two bobsled gold medals in the same games, Zubkov has a narrow lead over Latvia’s Oskars Melbardis, defending gold medalist Steven Holcomb in USA-1 and Germany’s Maximilian Arndt after the first two runs of the four-man competition, shaping up to be a sled-to-sled battle between the world’s fastest drivers on ice.

The margin: 0.17 seconds separating four sleds, the closest four-man race through two runs in Olympic history.

So before the cauldron in Sochi goes dark Sunday night, there’s some drama left to be settled on the bobsled track.

“There’s a lot of good teams out here,” said Holcomb, who wasn’t slowed by a nagging calf injury. “I knew it was going to be a battle like this.”

The favorite after dominating the two-man event, the 39-year-old Zubkov and his crew completed their two runs down the Sanki Sliding Center track on Saturday in 1 minute, 50.19 seconds — 0.04 seconds ahead of Melbardis, who jumped three sleds with a blistering second run.

Holcomb, who couldn’t catch Zubkov in two-man and settled for bronze, is fourth, 0.17 seconds behind Zubkov. Arndt in Germany-1 is third, 0.16 seconds back.

The 0.17-second gap between first and fourth place is the closest through two runs in Olympic history, topping the 0.23-second space between the four top challengers at Albertville in 1992.

With two runs left on Sunday, the gold is very much up for grabs.

“I knew it was going to be hard to be first,” Holcomb said. “Coming down and having that pretty good lead going into that second heat, ahead of the Latvians, it shows anybody can have a good run and move right up. We’re only 17-hundreths out of a gold medal and that can be made up in two runs, easily.”

If Zubkov is feeling any pressure to win Russia’s first gold in four-man and put an exclamation point on the Sochi Games for the host nation, he’s not showing it — at least not in his sled.

But after his two runs, Zubkov was somewhat tense and a little irritated by a crash involving Canada-3, which came shortly before the leading sleds began their second runs.

“The Canadians spoiled the track,” Zubkov snapped. “That’s why the top teams are struggling.”

Canadian driver Justin Kripps’s wreck didn’t bother Melbardis, who posted a time of 55.13 on his second run to move ahead of Arndt, Holcomb and Germany’s Thomas Florschuetz. Melbardis won a World Cup event here last year, and was viewed as a potential spoiler in four-man.

USA-2 driver Nick Cunningham, piloting the “Night Train” sled Holcomb won with in Vancouver, is in 11th.

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