The team driver of United States USA-1, Steven Holcomb, looks at his bronze medal after the men’s four-man bobsled final competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Steven Holcomb might as well be driving USA-62.
Seems like that’s his lucky number at the Olympics.
For the third time in four years and second in just a week, Holcomb snapped a 62-year drought inside the five rings. By finishing third in the four-man competition on Sunday and winning his second bronze medal of the Sochi Games, Holcomb became the first U.S. driver since Stanley Benham in 1952 — 62 years ago — to win two medals in the same games.
Holcomb won the first gold for the U.S. in four-man in since 1948 at the Vancouver Games four years ago, ending another 62-year barren run. Not long after having his second bronze placed around his neck, Holcomb was asked if he knew how long it had been since an American driver had snagged a pair of bobsled medals in the same games.
“Please say 62,” Holcomb said, flashing a smile. “It’s mind-blowing. It’s meant to be.”
So, it seems, was his third-place finish. Unable to catch Russia’s Alexander Zubkov, who became the first driver to win Olympic golds in two- and four-man for a host nation, Holcomb did just enough to hold off Russia-2 driver Alexander Kasjanov. It was the second time Holcomb had nipped Kasjanov on the Sanki Sliding Center track, both coming by 0.03 seconds.
“It was intense,” Holcomb said. “It came down to three-hundredths again, same guy. He hates me, I’m sure.”
Holcomb has become the face of American bobsledding. The chubby, everyman face.
Although he doesn’t look like he should be hanging out with his muscle-bound, All-American crew of Steve Langton, Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt, elite athletes and the high-powered motor that propels USA-1, Holcomb is arguably the world’s best driver on ice. Zubkov may have gotten the best of him in Russia, but on a neutral surface, the safe money would go on Holcomb, who won the World Cup overall title in two-man and finished second in four-man.
He’s the one everyone aims to beat.
It’s been a remarkable run for Holcomb, who nearly lost his sight to a degenerative disease, overcame bouts of deep depression, climbed his way up the American bobsled program and had to prove to the world’s top pilots that he could find his way to the podium outside North Amercia.
With two more Olympic medals, he’s done that.
He came to these games hoping to win a gold to match the one he got in Whistler, and although he finished behind Zubkov and Oskars Melbardis in Latvia-1, Holcomb’s two bronze medals gleamed brightly.
“We came here to win a medal and we did just that,” said Holcomb of Park City, Utah. “It was a tough race. It wasn’t easy. We kind of knew Zubkov was going to be fast and really hard to beat and the Latvians had a great day today and pulled away, but to come away with a bronze medal, we’re pretty happy with it. It was a tight race and we’re pretty satisfied.”
Holcomb entered the third heat in fourth place, but jumped ahead of Germany-1 with a 55.30-second run, putting him into position to medal.
But after Kasjanov posted the fastest fourth run (55.21 seconds), the pressure was on Holcomb. As he made his way down the 17-curve track, his lead over Kasjanov was eroding quickly and USA-2 sledmates Justin Olsen and Johnny Quinn of McKinney, Texas could barely look at the TV monitors in the media mixed zone area. But when Holcomb crossed the finish line, and his medal was assured, Quinn and Olsen hugged in celebration.
Olsen was a member of Holcomb’s four-man “Night Train” team that won it all in Vancouver, and he was elated for his former driver.
“I got on his team right when he found out he was going blind,” said Olsen of San Antonio. “It says a lot for him to be able to overcome all of that.”
At 33, Holcomb may only be getting started. He’s committed to bobsled, and after seeing the 39-year-old Zubkov win two golds, there’s no reason to stop sliding now. The American team is on the rise, and with corporate sponsors expected to jump on U.S. sleds after the luge, skeleton and bobsled teams walked away with seven medals from these games, Holcomb’s best days could be ahead.
But it was tough to top the one Holcomb and his teammates were enjoying in the sun-soaked Caucasus Mountains. Holcomb felt like a lucky man and he had the numbers to prove it.
“Luckily, it was three-hundredths again,” Holcomb said. “Three and 62. When I get to Vegas, 3 and 62.”
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