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February 27, 2010

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Team Holcomb ends 62 years of frustration by winning the four man Olympic bobsled title

WHISTLER, B.C. - Turns out that the Night Train is pretty fast in daylight, too.

The United States Olympic drought that lasted over several generations of bobsledders and at least one lifetime ended Sunday afternoon when driver Steve Holcomb drove his Bo-Dyn four man crew to a gold medal at the Whistler Sliding Center. It marked the first four-man gold medal since the Winter Games of 1948.

Helped by track records in the opening two heats on Saturday, Holcomb, with crew members Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz on the brakes came to the 16-turn track Sunday with a .4 of a second lead over Canada’s Lyndon Rush and .44 ahead of German icon Andre Lange.

Holcomb, in the Bo-Dyn Night Train bobsled that captured the world championship one year ago, extended the advantage to .45 with the best third run. With no troubles on the fast and treacherous course, the Night Train safely negotiated its way to the third best final leg and wound up defeating Lange by .38 of a second. Rush, second through the first three runs, was overtaken by Lange in the finale and placed another .01 behind and in the bronze medal position.

Then, for Holcomb, it was the reality of the moment. "No, it's just like last week [during the two-man race] walking through the media zone, but it's a little different talking about gold medals," he stated afterward. "It'll take a little while to sink in. You work so hard to get somewhere and you finally get there and you're kinda like 'Now what?’ I don't know what to do, but at the same time, these guys have been training so hard and working so hard for pretty much the last four years, to finally end on a high note like this is huge."

Holcomb and crew totaled three minutes, 24.46 seconds for their four heats. Lange’s silver medal time was 3:24.84, while Rush clocked in with 3:24.85.

"It’s been a long road. We’ve been building this for quite some time," sighed Darrin Steele, CEO of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. "The athletes have been amazing. Steve’s crew had the fastest pushes and he’s a great driver. There are lots of proud people celebrating in our little family. Steve always had a gift. He was working on his skills for a long time. He is a hell of an athlete... a hell of a driver. It’s a great day for the USA."

Steele faced one media scrum during the post-race revelry as his gold medal team was head-to-head with other press.

"I’m a dreamer. That’s why I took the job," continued Steele. "When these guys won the world championship and broke that 50-year drought, it was a reminder that they could do this in the Olympics. They did this as a team and did this right. I couldn’t be more proud of them."

It was the perfect storm of great driving, outstanding coaching, team chemistry and camaraderie and the evolution of the Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project.

"With the Bo-Dyn Project, our sleds are as good or better than the competition. But we’ve also built a pipeline of talent. No one gets complacent. They came into the season in the best shape I’ve ever seen them."

Pilot Mike Kohn, teaming with Jamie Moriarity, Bill Schuffenhauer and Nick Cunningham on the brakes, finished 13th in 3:27.32.

John Napier’s sled withdrew after yesterday’s crash that left his foursome a bit sore and bruised, but not so much that they couldn’t assist with the gold medal celebration. 

OTHER USA QUOTES:

Nick Cunningham, brakeman for Mike Kohn:

"The crowds have been amazing. You hear the chants. It’s pretty much a home crowd. The USA chants....it fires you up. We feed off the crowd. These past two weeks have been a dream come true. It’s made all the sacrifices worthwhile. My mom and dad were not here to watch the two man so I wrote ‘mom and dad’ on my gloves. They weren’t here to see the two man, so I had to have them in the sled with me today and gave them my gloves. They’ve sacrificed more than I have, so to have them watching me live my goal is unbelievable."

Next month Cunningham will go to Lake Placid and work on becoming a driver. 

 

Driving Coach Brian Shimer, a 5-time Olympian and bronze medalist:

On the secret to negotiating the 50-50 curve:

"(Alexander) Zhubkov had the line all week going through 50-50, but if you don’t have a plan B, you could get in trouble. The plan was to crank the sled around curve 12.

"Holcomb is way ahead of me. I needed five Olympics to get a bronze medal...he has a gold in his second Games. I’d like to see him break Lange’s record."

Lange is now retired after winning four straight gold medals before today’s silver.

"I have a lot of the same feelings that I had when we ended the medal drought in Salt Lake City. A lot of those feelings are coming back to the surface. Steve is just a hell of an athlete. I’m just excited I was able to be part of the team. It’s almost like. ‘What do you do now?’ We are going to shoot to do the same in Sochi."

 

Steve Mesler, push athlete for Steve Holcomb:

"I had more thoughts going down the track in the final run. I heard the crowd. I heard the cowbells. I was thinking of the last 20 years and not grasping the fact that this was gonna happen. I can’t even imagine it. I’ve waited for this moment my entire life. To move the Olympic crowd so I could see my parents and sister was something I couldn’t imagine. It’ll dawn on me when we get the medals tonight. 

Steve Holcomb

"The braking stretch is only about three or four seconds, but it feels like a minute. You can't see the clock. You have to make sure the guy's getting the brakes for one, 'cause if you go ripping by off the top, that wouldn't be cool. But it takes a second. When you hear everybody screaming and yelling it's hard to hear if they're cheering for you or because you got beat by Germany. As soon as I saw my team was holding up the No. 1, it was a huge moment." On whether his victory has sank in yet... "No, it's just like last week [during the two-man race] walking through the media zone, but it's a little different talking about gold medals. It'll take a little while to sink in. You work so hard to get somewhere and you finally get there and you're kinda like 'Now what? I don't know what to do,' but at the same time, these guys have been training so hard and working so hard for pretty much the last four years, to finally end on a high note like this is huge."


Curtis Tomasevicz, Holcomb's brakeman

"The word that keeps coming up is 'It's like a dream.' It really hasn't hit me yet and I hope it hits me when they put the medal on my neck." On the final run... "With the sport of bobsledding there's always that chance that something could go wrong. That's why it's a great sport. Until we cross that finish line, nothing's really written in stone. It was a good feeling when we finally crossed the finish line."Steve Mesler

"Never. Even at the top of the hill before the fourth run, we didn't sit there and talk about what we were going to do. We just relaxed and there was a moment where the four of us were standing there and everyone else had gone inside and we were the last ones there and it's a moment that I kind of stopped for a half a second and took it in. The four of us in an empty parking lot getting ready to go down the hill. I'll never forget that."



Steve Mesler, push athlete for Holcomb

On the experience of climbing into the stands to see his family after the race...

"It was how it looked. It's been a long, long time and it's been a long road, getting carted all over the country since I was 10 years old and my parents going to Europe to see me race. To finally do it, I don't even get it yet. I've been waiting for this for so long... People have said it before and I always thought that I would grasp it. I don't. On the way down I didn't."


Justin Olsen, push athlete for Holcomb

"There really weren't any butterflies because we've been here before. If you try to take into perspective that this is the Olympics, the biggest race of your life, that's where you mess up. If you try too hard, you're more likely to mess up. Just take it like it's a normal race. We've been here before. We were here last year when we were in Lake Placid (at the World Championships.) That was a learning experience. We came out (in Lake Placid) on the second day and we increased our lead. Today I know we didn't lay down the runs we had yesterday with that much of a lead, but... Andre Lange (GER) and Lyndon Rush (CAN) are competitors and they were going to do everything they could to catch up to us."