Rzhanaya Polyana, Russia – Steve Holcomb knew it would not be easy, but the resilient American bobsled pilot put down two consistent runs Sunday down the 18-curve track to overtake third place Germany and claim a four man Olympic bronze medal in the mountains above Sochi.
It was the second bronze of the Sochi Games for Holcomb and Steve Langton, his two-man brakeman and four man push athlete. They are the only United States Olympians to leave Sochi with two medals in individual events.
Russian pilot Alexander Zubkov completed the gold medal sweep merely hours before the Sochi Closing Ceremony. He did so in the presence of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and with Latvia’s Oskars Melbardis in hot pursuit. Whose presence created more pressure for Zubkov is debatable, but the Russian’s final run was only sixth best as his advantage was dissolving. When the four heat total of 7,256 meters (about 4.5 miles) ended, Zubkov was .09 of a second clear of Melbardis.
The winner clocked a total of 3 minutes, 40.60 seconds. Latvia recorded 3:40.69, with Holcomb at 3:40.99.
The 2010 gold medal winning Night Train was bequeath to Nick Cunningham earlier this season. The first-time Olympic driver was joined by 2010 Olympic champion Justin Olsen, Johnny Quinn and Dallas Robinson. They collaborated for a 12th place performance in 3:42.70.
“It was tough here,” said Holcomb, who earlier scored his first bronze medal in the BMW two-man sled. “You’re sitting on the start line getting ready to go for your last heat and the Russians are chanting for their country. And it’s really loud because it’s enclosed. But it’s kinda nice to come across the line and silence them. We knew it would be a tough battle. The Russians know this track. They were on the track the week leading up to the Games. We all stood back and watched them take their runs and couldn’t do anything. For the most part we knew it was gonna be tough and we knew it and had to fight as hard as we could.”
A glitch in Holcomb’s second run push Saturday night drifted the Bo-Dyn Night Train 2 sled from third to fourth place at the mid-point of the race, setting the stage for the rally. Curt Tomasevicz, a gold medalist with Holcomb in this event four years ago, and Chris Fogt completed the team. Only Fogt, a military man with an expecting wife, was medal-free. Prior to the final run, the team rallied around that cause.
“It’s crazy to think that I watched these guys win in 2010,” said Fogt, who will leave bobsledding for the next two years for another term of military duty. “I was envious of it. It would be so cool to have one of those. Now I have something to show for it. I’m very proud of how we did and proud to race with these guys. These guys are unbelievable and they train hard enough to help me with this. Without them it would not have happened.”
In the third heat, Holcomb’s crew moved up from fourth to third place on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, and then clinched the medal in the final heat. The achievement was the result of all assets in the package working in unison: the best push in the world (they lead three of the four runs including a track record), arguably the world’s most talented driver, and a new sled that posted the fastest speeds at the bottom of the Sanki Sliding Center track in heats three and four. Average speeds in the race hit the mid-80s despite three uphill sections.
As the two days of racing unfolded Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project founder Geoff Bodine left his Florida home for Lake Placid where he watched the efforts of the Night Train 2 crew unfold. Since 2002 the Bodine initiative has now generated seven Olympic medals.
“I felt relief when Steve crossed the line, and you could see the relief in him,” remarked Bodine. “But there’s also joy and pride. He’s accomplished so much in the sport. Steve has achieved what our goals were from the beginning. We hoped the sleds would be good enough to help our athletes compete at a high level.
“Bob Cuneo (Chassis Dynamics in Oxford, Conn.) was the brains behind all of this. I’m not sure where we’d be without him. And the contribution of (Jim) “Cheech” Garde, in working with Bob on the sled’s construction and then providing technical service all season on the road, cannot be overstated.”
Added outgoing Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project President Phil Kurze: “The Geoff Bodine dream of providing American athletes with American made bobsleds has been fulfilled. Through all of your efforts we have provided our athletes with the best equipment and technical service. Another Olympic medal is worthy of great celebration.”