Fifth time lucky for versatile bobsleigh veteran Houben

The Belgian team took silver in the four-man, with a crew that included a remarkably talented sportsman in Max Houben.

Houben had been born in the 19th century and, as he approached his 50th year, he could already reflect on a life that had been lived to the full. This was his fifth Olympic Games, across both winter and summer. but he had never yet won a medal.

Houben's sporting journey had begun some three decades before. In 1920, he won the Belgian championship in the 100m sprint and so was selected to represent his country in the 1920 Games in Antwerp. He was eliminated in the second round of the 200m, having finished fifth, and last, in his heat, but that was nowhere near enough to quench his competitive spirit.

Houben played football in the top league in Belgium, being part of the championship winning team in 1933, when he was 34 years old. He also took part in tennis and motor racing, but really found his home when he discovered bobsleigh.

In 1928, he finished sixth in the men's four, also becoming the first Belgian to compete in both the Summer and Winter Games. Four years later, he was ninth in the two-man, a result that he repeated at the 1936 Games, along with an impressive fifth place in the four-man event. Houben was part of the leading group, but not yet closing in on a medal.

Then came the Second World War, meaning Houben couldn't compete again until he was in his late 40s. Most would have retired; he returned to action with great determination. At the 1947 world championships, he enjoyed a stunning return to action with a bronze in the two-man and a silver in the four-man.

In St Moritz, Houben opened his campaign for a long-awaited medal in the two-man. He came fourth, although finishing more than two seconds off a bronze medal. It was his best Olympic result – but still didn't bring the medal he so wanted.

And so came the four-man, which proved to be much more competitive. After the first three runs, United States-2 were out in front, but the battle for silver and bronze was very tight, only 1.6secs covering Norway-1 in second down to Italy-1 in eighth position. Houben and his team kept their nerve, though, to set the fastest time on the final run, half a second quicker than anyone else. The silver medal was theirs.